King County Sheriff John Urquhart is not entirely sold on the idea of safe injection sites. But despite his misgivings, Urquhart believes the federal government is more apt to go after Washington’s legalized marijuana than it is the incoming heroin sites.
Urquhart told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don that he understands that the feds could target the state for plans to open two safe injection sites in King County that would allow drug addicts to use illegal substances under medical supervision. But Urquhart doesn’t see that as being likely. Borrowing a line from former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, Urquhart said that the Trump administration appears to be picking a lot of fights.
“I personally believe they will go after marijuana first, before they go after the safe injection site, assuming (the site) ever gets open,” he said. “And we’re not talking about a bunch of them, we’re talking one, maybe two.”
A plan approved by county health officials aims to place one safe injection site in Seattle, and another in the greater King County area. However, State Senator Mark Miloscia has written to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an attempt to get the feds to halt the plans.
Urquhart, a former narcotics detective, said that he believes heroin users generally want treatment but that “we as a society have not offered the treatment, the beds, the rehabilitation” for heroin users, the mentally ill, or the homeless population, which he said all go “hand and hand.” He said anything is better than a tent on the side of the road.
“They’re a three-legged stool and until we do that we are going to continue to have this homeless problem,” he said.
“I would find $100 million and put it into treatment for the drug addiction and into a place for these people to live,” he added. “That has to happen. And not necessarily in that order — probably the best thing is to find them a place to live first and then wean them off heroin and get them mental health treatment. That has to happen.”
Urquhart talks pot
Urquhart says he has been a proponent of legalized marijuana since running for sheriff in 2012, telling Ron and Don that “we can’t arrest our way out of any of society’s problems, much less the heroin epidemic.”
Being a law enforcement official who condones marijuana comes with pushback from police chiefs and sheriff’s around the country, he said.
“They are just so pissed at me, you wouldn’t believe it,” Urquhart said. “But, I always come back to them (and say), ‘OK. The war on drugs didn’t work. What’s your solution?’ And nobody has another idea; nobody has a solution. All they want to do is criticize.”
With that said, Urquhart been less gung-ho about the safe injection sites. When asked if he thought the sites were a good idea, Urquhart made a heavy sigh before responding: “I am so upset that we are in the position now, as a police officer for 41 years, that we’re gonna provide a place for people to inject heroin. That really galls me. That being said, I’m also all about harm reduction and I think we can keep people from dying, we can keep people from catching hepatitis C or even AIDS by these safe injection sites, and we have a better chance of getting them into treatment if they are there in one place.”
Urquhart was critical of the expected moves by Sessions, the former Alabama Senator who has been an outspoken opponent of marijuana legalization. White House press secretary Sean Spicer also said last week that the feds will likely increase enforcement of marijuana laws. Still, at least one local pot shop owner said he “wasn’t losing any sleep” over it.
“What Jeff Sessions is going to do is to push this pot situation back underground, and it didn’t work when it was underground before,” Urquhart said. “What ‘s most ironic to me is now they’re talking about marijuana being a gateway drug. It’s not. It’s Big Pharma, it’s the opioids, it’s the hydrocodone. That’s the gateway drug.”