Bellingham Council rejects making public drug use a crime

Mar 14, 2023, 10:06 AM
public drug use...
Police aren't allowed to tell drug users that it is a crime. (Bellingham Police Department/Facebook)
(Bellingham Police Department/Facebook)

Despite the mayor’s best efforts, the Bellingham City Council has rejected a proposal that would make public drug use a crime.

It was just last week when Mayor Seth Fleetwood proposed an ordinance that would make public drug use a misdemeanor.

The ordinance would have made the use of a controlled substance in a public place a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

“There’s a lot of impunity in the act of open drug use in downtown Bellingham, and I think we need to find a way to disrupt that activity,” Fleetwood said.

By state law, drug possession is only a misdemeanor on an offender’s third arrest for the crime. On the first two arrests, police are required to refer offenders to drug treatment programs.

New laws in Marysville prohibit public drug use, disruptions on buses

The city of Marysville was able to pass two similar city ordinances preventing public drug use late last year. The first ordinance prohibits the use of controlled substances in public without a prescription. The second ordinance will further prohibit inappropriate behavior aboard transit, at park-and-ride lots, or at bus stops.

The city has been grappling with open drug use of fentanyl and other narcotics. Businesses have complained about the impact.

The mayor had hoped that his proposals would be the start of improving conditions downtown. In a news release, he said:

These actions are the next step in a multi-year focus on downtown, where public health and safety concerns continue despite nearly one million dollars in investments in security personnel, downtown ambassadors, graffiti abatement, sanitation and other services last year and continuing this year.

Fleetwood and Bellingham Municipal Court Judge Debra Lev have said that they are working together to create practical solutions to the issue of drug use and addiction alongside the legislation proposed by the mayor.

“Community courts generally take an individual and trauma-informed approach rather than the traditional punitive approach typically seen in the criminal justice system,” Judge Lev said. “Community courts use a collaborative, problem-solving approach to crime. They provide practical, targeted solutions working to find housing services, education, employment, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, behavioral health services, veterans services, and other social connections.”

This process includes the creation of community courts that will “hold participants accountable while connecting them to social services.”

Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig said her department has responded to 87 overdose calls this year. That compares to 70 overdose calls in all of 2022.

Bellingham Police arrest woman in $1.4 million embezzlement case

Council members argued that it wasn’t so much they were against the proposal, it was that they did not see an adequate plan to deal with people after they were arrested.

Currently, police can not even tell drug users that what they are doing is illegal.

Local News

Gateway Arcs...
Kate Stone

City of Lakewood apologizes for Nazi reference in public art piece

One of the messages read, "Every evil thing the Nazis did was a direct result of their socialist beliefs and socialist policies." 
3 hours ago
Kate Stone

Lynnwood council member under fire for posting shirtless photo

"Deeply unacceptable and I call for his resignation," one resident said during Lynnwood's city council meeting Monday.
1 day ago
paid sick and safe time...
Frank Sumrall

Paid sick, safe time now permanent for Seattle app-based workers

Seattle became the first city in the nation to implement permanent paid sick and safe time benefits for app-based gig workers.
1 day ago
rainbow fentanyl...
Nicole Jennings

Marysville Police find ‘rainbow fentanyl’ pills in Tic Tac container

At first glance, they could have been candy -- Marysville Police found brightly-colored rainbow fentanyl pills in a Tic Tac container.
1 day ago
King County metro bus fentanyl on buses...
L.B. Gilbert

King County Metro installs air monitors to study effects of fentanyl

Officials from King County Metro have authorized the placement of monitors to study the effects of fentanyl on board buses.
1 day ago
consent decree...
Frank Sumrall

Seattle Police consent decree set to end after more than a decade

The consent decree court order between the City of Seattle and its police department is set to expire after 11 years.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Bellingham Council rejects making public drug use a crime