Seattle may join other Washington cities and counties in passing laws against public drug use, filling a gap that the state Legislature left open in the most recent legislative session.
The legislation — proposed by City Attorney Ann Davison and councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen — is modeled after a bill passed in Bellingham in April. It would prohibit drug use in public places such as parks, sidewalks, bus stops and transit, according to a press release. Using drugs in public places would be a misdemeanor under the proposed law. The city attorney would be able to divert cases “for treatment in appropriate circumstances.”
Under the proposed legislation, drug use in public places would be classified as a misdemeanor. Other cities have chosen to classify it as a “gross misdemeanor,” which involves potentially more jail time and larger fines.
“The epidemic of drug use is killing Seattle residents and depriving the public of spaces intended to be safe for everyone,” Davison said in a press release. “We will not give up areas of our city to overt drug use and antisocial behavior, and this legislation will bring a critical tool to disrupt open-air drug markets, reclaim our green spaces and sidewalks and protect transit riders.”
The measure would follow similar legislation in other cities including Bellingham, Marysville, Kent and Lakewood. Other Washington cities and counties are moving on similar legislation. State officials failed to pass a law in the most recent session to fix a hole left by the state’s Supreme Court when it invalidated Washington’s drug possession law in the now-infamous State v. Blake decision.
In that case, a person named Shannon Blake was arrested on and convicted of drug possession because she was found with a bag of methamphetamine in her jeans. Blake contended that she had received the pants from a friend, not knowing that there were drugs in the pocket.
The state’s Supreme Court found that the existing possession law was void because it violated Blake’s due process rights.
The Legislature passed a temporary “fix” that will last until July 2023, with the intention of passing more permanent legislation in the following session. However, lawmakers failed to do so at the last minute.
In a press release, the City Attorney’s Office said that it had worked with LEAD — the acronym for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, an organization that works with people experiencing homelessness and other issues — for six years. It also said that millions of dollars appropriated by the state for treatment, diversion and harm reduction were no longer available because of the state’s failure to pass new legislation.
Ashley Archibald is the editor of Real Change News.
Read more of the May 3-9, 2023 issue.