How we got here

By: - May 16, 2023 9:58 am

As lawmakers begin to gather in the Capitol for their one-day session, let’s take a look at how we got here. 

The “Blake fix” stems from a 2021 state Supreme Court case where the court ruled that the state’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional because it didn’t require someone to “knowingly” possess drugs for conviction. 

State v. Blake centered around Shannon Blake, who was arrested in 2016 in Spokane and convicted of simple drug possession because she had a bag of methamphetamine in the jeans she was wearing. Blake argued the jeans were from a friend and she did not realize the drugs were in them.

At the time, drug possession was considered a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In February 2021, the court ruled that the state’s drug possession law at the time violated due process because someone could unknowingly possess drugs and still be arrested. 

Following the decision, those with pending simple possession charges were released from jails and their charges dismissed throughout the state. Those convicted of simple possession of a controlled substance under the law became eligible to have their conviction vacated and for a refund of any penalties or fines paid on these cases.

The court’s decision came mid-legislative session and left lawmakers scrambling to come up with a fix in the few short months they had left. 

Their temporary solution made drug possession a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, but required law enforcement to divert offenders to treatment on their first two arrests.

That law sunsets in July, and if the Legislature doesn’t come up with a new law before then, there will be no state level criminal penalty for drug possession.

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Laurel Demkovich
Laurel Demkovich

Laurel joined States Newsroom in 2023 after almost three years as a statehouse reporter for the Spokesman-Review. She covers state government, the Legislature and all other Olympia news.