PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The state of Washington is one week into the full implementation of its new drug possession law that allows police to immediately arrest people in possession of illicit drugs.

This is a stark change from the law that had been in place since May 2021, which required two documented warnings and a referral to treatment prior to an arrest.

Troy Brightbill, the chief criminal deputy of Cowlitz County, said the previous law “led to situations where people were just openly using drugs in public with no fear of any consequences.”

“There wasn’t a good way of sharing whether those subjects had received warnings, say in another jurisdiction,” he said. “And the intended effect, I think, of them seeking alternatives was largely unused.”

The change comes after Gov. Jay Inslee called a special legislative session in May to fix the law after the Washington Supreme Court struck it down, and a temporary law was set to expire.

If the new legislation hadn’t passed, it could have led to the legalization of all drug possession in the state, much like Oregon’s controversial Measure 110.

In compromise, the Washington legislature bridged a gap between Liberals who believe drugs should be decriminalized and Conservatives who insist the threat of jail is necessary to force people into treatment. However, the new law reduces drug possession from a felony to a gross misdemeanor.

“The bipartisan bill prioritizes treatment over punishment, it encourages law enforcement and prosecutors to divert individuals away from the criminal justice system,” Inslee said.

Brightbill said he is “willing to give it a shot” and see how the new law turns out.

“We are going to be actively enforcing this law,” Brightbill said. “There might have been people who got a break before under the previous system. Those breaks are not going to be there now.”

Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.