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Will a new federal lawsuit impact Seattle’s plan for safe injection sites?


The proposed creation of safe injection sites locally has been a political football from the start. King County approved $2,127,000 in 2017 to implement the plan, and then anti-injection site Initiative 27 sought to ban it, but was rejected by the Washington State Supreme Court.

Now local officials are keeping their eye on a new federal lawsuit against Safehouse, a Philadelphia nonprofit looking to open the country’s first drug consumption site, reports Crosscut. The case could have national ramifications.

“The DOJ kind of looked the other way with marijuana, because there’s a lot of money behind it, there’s a lot of power behind it, they seemed to have lost that fight,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “But they might put up a wall at this point, since heroin is a different story, and look out, we’re not going to let you set up these safe injection sites.”

RELATED: Washington Supreme Court nixes ban on safe injection sites

The justification for the lawsuit is centered around the “crack house” statute of the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits managing any place that enables the unlawful use of a controlled substance. According to U.S. Attorney William McSwain, it’s irrelevant if the site has altruistic intentions.

For their part, the Philadelphia non-profit has argued that because it serves a public health purpose, and is not there to distribute drugs, the law shouldn’t apply. So how could it impact Seattle?

“There’s no reason why the threat of federal suits should stop us,” Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson told Crosscut. “For me, I think we should continue to move forward.”

RELATED: ‘Dozens and dozens’ of underground safe injection sites in Seattle

At the moment, local officials are watching to see how the lawsuit plays out. Since it has an acute focus, it’s believed that the case will move forward quickly and that Seattle may be able to adapt its own proposals to the decision.

With concerns over federal property seizure likely detouring a willing landlord, local officials are instead considering a vacant government-owned property or sort of a mobile safe injection clinic in a van.

Vancouver is currently the only city in North American to host a safe injection site.

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