Washington State has officially launched an online portal that people can use to request reimbursement of their legal fees if they were prosecuted under drug criminalization laws that the state Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in 2021.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) launched the Blake Refund Bureau website on Saturday to facilitate the relief in coordination with courts, county clerks, public defenders, prosecutors, advocates and other stakeholders.
“If you have a Blake-impacted criminal record, you must first have your Blake-related convictions vacated and refund eligibility determined by the court or courts where your convictions were issued,” AOC said. “Once your convictions have been vacated, you can apply for reimbursements on your paid Blake-related [legal financial obligations].”
The novel reimbursement fund is being created following the state Supreme Court’s landmark 2021 ruling in Washington v. Blake that found the state’s criminal code for drug possession crimes was unconstitutionally flawed because it didn’t take require proof that a person “knowingly” committed the offense—creating a situation where people could be criminalized for inadvertent possession.
The ruling effectively nullified the state’s drug possession criminalization law, though the governor has since signed a bill passed by the legislature that reinstates prohibition, with statutory language fixes to pass constitutional muster and lower penalties for possession compared to the previous law.
For the estimated 350,000 people who were caught up in the legal system under the prior statute, however, some relief could be on the horizon.
Under enacted legislation, the state will provide $47 million in funding to facilitate a comprehensive review and vacation of hundreds of thousands of felony drug possession and misdemeanor marijuana possession records. Another $50 million will be used to reimburse eligible individuals for court-ordered fines and costs, also known as legal financial obligations.
AOC will also be launching a public outreach campaign to inform people about the relief initiative.
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Meanwhile, there have been a number of other drug policy reform developments that have advanced in the state this session.
For example, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a bill into law in May that will protect workers from facing employment discrimination during the hiring process over their lawful use of marijuana.
Inslee also approved a measure that month authorizing interstate cannabis commerce, pending a federal policy change.
He further acted on a bill in May to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment. He signed it, with a partial veto of sections that he said “no longer align with the bill’s intent.”