With a ‘heavy heart,’ Rep. Cheney votes against proposed drug possession compromise

‘An acknowledgement of the problem must be part of the solution,’ says Cheney

On the final day of the 105-day 2023 legislative session, legislators in the state House of Representatives debated and voted on legislation to address the legality of drug possession in Washington state.

Senate Bill 5536 was a compromise bill designed to address the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision which ruled the state’s drug possession law, as written, to be unconstitutional.

A “Blake fix” was deemed a must-have by legislators on both sides of the aisle as communities across the state have seen an increase in drug use and the associated crime and homelessness that often follows.

Rep. Greg Cheney, R-Battle Ground, said finding a workable solution to the drug possession problem has been one of the most intense issues of the session, resulting in several back-and-forth proposals between the House and Senate.

“It is with a heavy heart that I voted no on this legislation,” said Cheney, “As an attorney who has spent nearly a decade working with Washington’s drug courts, I have ample experience working with individuals suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. I want to see them set free from their cycle of addiction, crime, and misery. The majority party has had two years to come up with a workable, compassionate solution that gets people the help they need. But this legislation is not it.”

Cheney joined with a bipartisan majority that voted ‘no’ on Senate Bill 5536. While several Democrat legislators felt the bill was too harsh and stated their belief that there should be no punishment for drug users, Republican legislators argued the bill didn’t go far enough.

“In the end, this bill fails to recognize the good work being done by our state’s drug courts. It fails to recognize the need for individuals to accept some measure of responsibility for their actions,” said Cheney. “An acknowledgement of the problem must be part of the solution.

“We unanimously passed deferred prosecution legislation just a few days ago that recognized the balance between treatment for alcoholism and holding individuals accountable,” Cheney continued. “When people can’t break their habit, public safety is at risk and there needs to be consequences. Why we can’t we apply that same logic to drug use? The services and treatment are for the individual; the accountability is for the safety of the community. We can have both.”

Cheney was also concerned that the bill may override local zoning laws to potentially allow needle exchanges and safe injection sites around schools, libraries, and parks.

“In many cities, our children are already being exposed to drug use and the associated crime and homelessness just by driving to the grocery store,” said Cheney. “We don’t need to increase this exposure by allowing for injection sites and needle exchanges in close proximity to schools.”

The 105-day 2023 legislative session ended on Sunday, April 23.

The entirety of Rep. Cheney’s House floor speech may be viewed here or by clicking the image below:

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov