OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the state's felony drug possession law is unconstitutional.
Immediately following the ruling, Seattle Police announced they would no longer be arresting people for simple drug possession, and they won't confiscate drugs under the statute. Other agencies quickly followed suit.
The law made possession of a controlled substance a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, plus a hefty fine.
In its ruling released Thursday, the high court said the law serves to "criminalize innocent and passive possession" because it is a "strict liability" law, meaning prosecutors don't need to prove intent.
The ruling strikes down RCW 69.50.4013 Section 1. Without that section, there is essentially no state law on simple drug possession.
Former U.S. Attorney John McKay called the decision "remarkable."
The ruling stems from a 2016 arrest in Spokane where a woman was found with a small amount of meth in the pocket of her jeans. The woman testified that a friend had bought the jeans second-hand and gave them to her. Her boyfriend had also testified that she did not use drugs and that she got the pants from a friend.
The woman was convicted, but Wednesday's court ruling would toss out that conviction.
"Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers," the ruling reads.
State lawmakers have been briefed, sources tell Q13's Brandi Kruse, but it is unclear whether efforts will be made to alter the law so it satisfies the court's ruling. Democrats are already pushing a bill this session to decriminalize personal drug possession, which would make the ruling irrelevant.
McKay, the former U.S. Attorney, said this could pave the way for prior convictions to be tossed, but it will be up to the court to decide.
A notice sent to law enforcement across the state told agencies to immediately "release of all pre-trial detainees whose only charged offenses are simple possession."
The ruling was met with much backlash from police departments and sheriff's offices. The Hoquiam Police Department in Grays Harbor County posted a lengthy response on their social media pages.
"We have heard the concern and anger about drugs loud and clear from our residents," Hoquiam PD said on its Facebook page. "This concern and frustration perhaps has been as a result of people suffering the consequences as a family member or friend of someone addicted to heroin, meth, cocaine or other drug...or perhaps the concern and frustration comes from residents who are tired of the thefts, frauds, burglaries, vehicle prowls and other property crimes which are directly fueling the cost of chronic drug abuse and addiction."
Read the full ruling below: