Ross: Open container laws downtown are not the same as public drug use

Apr 19, 2023, 7:54 AM | Updated: 8:26 am


FILE - A Seattle police officer walks past tents used by people experiencing homelessness, March 11, 2022, during the clearing and removal an encampment in Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle officials on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, asked a judge to end most federal oversight of the city's police department, saying its sustained, decade-long reform efforts are a model for cities around the country whose law enforcement agencies face federal civil rights investigations. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

On Monday, Mayor Bruce Harrell was in Pioneer Square to announce his executive order to reactivate downtown.

And one of the ideas was to allow people to “sip and stroll” – making it legal to buy an adult beverage, and take it with you as you stroll between bars or galleries or food trucks in the reactivated downtown.

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And – this being Seattle – of course, brought a pointed question from the audience implying a level of hypocrisy, as in, how come it’s okay to encourage selling alcohol when you’re arresting people for selling Fentanyl?

If it’s okay to stroll the sidewalks sipping a discreet martini, why can’t you inject a discreet synthetic opiate? If downtown is a safe consumption site for alcohol, why not allow the safe consumption of illegal drugs?

Councilmember Sara Nelson, who runs a brewery, decided to tackle that conundrum:

“I think there’s a false equivalency between the sip and stroll idea, which is great for small businesses and for downtown spaces, and consumption sites for illegal drugs. One is illegal, one is not,” Nelson said.

She was being very polite. What I would say is, it’s the difference between being among people who are enjoying a pleasant evening, and people who are in the process of ending their lives.

Can alcoholics drink themselves to death too? Obviously. And I would take drunks off the street and offer treatment the same way the Mayor plans to take fentanyl addicts off the street and offer treatment, the same way Medic One would take a heart attack victim off the street and offer treatment.

Whether it’s logical or not, there is a huge difference between the way alcohol is being used and the way Fentanyl is being used. And Sara Nelson wasn’t afraid to say so:

“We’re not going to be embarrassed to recognize that fentanyl is killing people. And there is a law enforcement component to this,” Nelson said.

We’ve tried pretending that hard drugs are like alcohol; we’ve tried looking the other way, until now it’s to the point you can’t look the other way because no matter which way you look, you see people dying.

Drug addiction is just plain ugly, and nobody wants to be around it. It’s deadly to the victims, and yes – it’s bad for business. Which is where the tax money for treatment comes from.

Maybe the day will come when people will inject Fentanyl responsibly.

But until then – it makes sense that booze in moderation will be welcomed, and drugs will not.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: Open container laws downtown are not the same as public drug use