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US Attorney Moran: Injection sites ‘unquestionably’ violate law

Supporters of safe injection sites like Insite in Vancouver, BC. Seattle and King County aim to establish similar locations. (KIRO 7)

When it comes to the possibility of supervised injection sites in the Puget Sound region, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran has one clear message: “It unquestionably violates U.S. federal law.”

Moran serves the Western District of Washington. Following the recommendations of the King County Opiate Addiction Task Force, King County and the City of Seattle have plans to establish two supervised consumption sites — one in the city and one elsewhere in the county.

If this happens, Moran said last week, there would be grounds for a federal lawsuit.

RELATED: Why Seattle should wait on CHEL sites

While speaking with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Tuesday, Moran said that “the law is pretty clear” that it is “unlawful to maintain, promote, or stand up, or use a drug house.” In his view, a supervised injection site amounts to little more than a drug house.

He added that the federal law contains neither good-faith exceptions on this subject, nor exceptions for the establishment of such a site by a local government.

Both sides of the consumption site debate agree on one point — the opioid epidemic has reached a crisis level in Seattle, in King County, and throughout the nation. More people now die annually from opioid overdoses than car accidents in Washington.

Moran sees a distinct link between prosecution and overdoses. Nationally, there were 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016. At the same time, he pointed out, federal drug prosecutions went down 23 percent between 2011 and 2016, and drug trafficking sentences also decreased by 20 percent in those years.

“This is just something that the federal government can’t just sit idly by and watch, a safe injection site, a safe drug house, go forward,” he said.

After his appointment to the position of U.S. attorney in January, Moran said he had a “valuable conversation” with City of Seattle Attorney Pete Holmes. During this discussion, he told Holmes that he would not under any circumstance support supervised injection sites.

“I advised him that I wouldn’t sit idly by and allow Seattle to stand with them,” Moran said. “He was accepting of it; it was a good conversation. It’s the way I hope most of these conversations go.”

In response to Moran’s statements last week on injection sites, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told KIRO Radio that the city has “to try a whole bunch of tools in order to have a harm-reduction model instead of a punitive model.”

Moran does draws the line at prosecuting marijuana — legal in Washington and a handful of other states, but illegal federally — which he sees as a completely “different issue.”

“I’ve got 60, give or take, criminal prosecutors who just do not have the bandwidth to fight that fight,” he said. “The voters have spoken. I’ve got higher priorities — sex trafficking, overdose deaths. It’s just not a place I want to put this district’s lawyers to work in.”

On a similar note, Moran can understand why Snohomish and King Counties no longer prosecute personal possession amounts of drugs. He pointed out that, just like his office stays away from prosecute marijuana possession, it is a “question of limited prosecution resources.”

Instead, Moran sets his sights on the bigger picture.

“I’m more focused on using my resources to go after major Mexican cartels that are pumping kilo, after kilo, after kilo of fentanyl, methamphetamine, opioids into this district,” he said. “I think that’s where we can be the most useful. If you get rid of supply, you make the problem better.”

Drug traffickers, take heed.

“In this district, if you’re moving large amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, opioids, fentanyl, we’re coming after you,” he said. “We are going to make your life difficult, we will prosecute you vigorously, we will add mandatory minimums, and we will make your life miserable.”


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