In light of Thursday’s state Supreme Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of the state’s law covering basic possession of illegal drugs, the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office will halt enforcement in simple drug-possession cases, including methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and all other controlled substances, Grays Harbor County Undersheriff Brad Johansson said in a Facebook post Friday. He called on the Legislature to fix the laws’s language to make it constitutional.
The court ruled that the current law doesn’t require a defendant to have intent or specific knowledge of possessing drugs. Legislators have already begun discussions to address the issue with new legislation.
Johansson said pending cases for possession of drugs will be dismissed, arrest warrants will be quashed and those in jail only for drug possession cases will be released. Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Norma Tillotson was not available for comment.
He said adding the word “knowingly” to the law, in the context of knowing of the existence of the drugs, is one remedy.
He said his office will still look for and arrest drug dealers. The drugs are still illegal and if someone is found to be in simple possession, the drugs would be seized as contraband. If a juvenile is found with drugs, their guardian will be notified.
“What this does not change is the extremely damaging affect drugs have on our community and the crime that is fueled by its consumption. The majority of crimes we investigate are directly related to drug addiction. Thefts, car prowls, burglaries, fraud and various other crimes are committed to support drug addictions” Johansson wrote.
Hoquiam chief weighs in
Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers also noted his frustration in a department Facebook post.
“One of the immediate impacts of this court decision will be no arrests, search warrants, drug dog sniffs or other enforcement related to simple felony drug possession.” Myers wrote. “HPD will still attempt to investigate and interdict drug dealers who peddle their poison for profit, but this will be more of a challenge without the cooperation of those arrested for simple possession.”
Myers said prisoners being held only on simple drug possession charges likely will be released from jails and prisons in the next few days.
“We are awaiting specific direction from our City Attorney and the County Prosecutor, but as you can imagine, we are all trying to figure out what happens next,” the chief said. “HPD wanted our residents to be aware of this change because when one of our officers say they ‘cannot do something about a drug problem’ in your neighborhood, we are not being lazy, we are just following the law as announced today by the Washington State Supreme Court.”