Washington Launches Online Portal to Reimburse Those Affected by Unconstitutional Drug Convictions

Washington Launches Online Portal to Reimburse Those Affected by Unconstitutional Drug Convictions

Washington State has recently launched an innovative online portal aimed at reimbursing individuals who were subjected to legal fees due to drug criminalization laws that were declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2021.

Known as the Blake Refund Bureau website, it was introduced by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to work in collaboration with courts, county clerks, public defenders, prosecutors, advocates, and other stakeholders to provide relief to affected individuals.

To be eligible for reimbursement, those with a criminal record impacted by the Blake ruling must first have their Blake-related convictions vacated and their refund eligibility assessed by the relevant court or courts where the convictions were issued. Once this step is completed, individuals can apply for reimbursement of their paid Blake-related legal financial obligations.

The creation of this reimbursement fund stems from a significant 2021 ruling by the state Supreme Court in the case of Washington v. Blake. The court found that the state's drug possession criminalization law was unconstitutional as it lacked the requirement for proof of "knowingly" committing the offense, leading to inadvertent possession resulting in criminalization. As a consequence, the drug possession criminalization law was effectively nullified. However, the state legislature subsequently passed a bill signed by the governor to reinstate prohibition with necessary fixes to ensure constitutionality and lower penalties for possession compared to the previous law.

The estimated 350,000 individuals who were ensnared in the legal system under the prior statute now have a chance for some relief. The state has allocated $47 million in funding for a comprehensive review and vacation of hundreds of thousands of felony drug possession and misdemeanor marijuana possession records. An additional $50 million will be used to reimburse eligible individuals for court-ordered fines and costs, also referred to as legal financial obligations. To ensure widespread awareness, the AOC will launch a public outreach campaign to inform people about this relief initiative.

Alongside these developments, Washington State has seen other drug policy reform advancements this legislative session. Notably, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill into law in May to safeguard workers from employment discrimination during the hiring process based on their lawful use of marijuana. Furthermore, he approved a measure permitting interstate cannabis commerce, pending a change in federal policy. Additionally, Governor Inslee acted on a bill in May to support research on psilocybin and establish a pilot program to offer therapeutic access to this psychedelic for mental health treatment, with partial vetoes on sections that no longer aligned with the bill's intent.

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