Auburn mayor frustrated over Olympia’s failure to pass drug possession law

May 1, 2023, 5:16 PM | Updated: 5:19 pm

Seattle drug laws...

Residents of a homeless encampment walk through the encampment after smoking fentanyl on Seattle. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

After state lawmakers could not agree on legislation regarding possessing illicit drugs, it will no longer be a crime to possess said drugs starting July 1 — leaving government officials like Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus frustrated over the stall in Olympia.

“In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense that every city has a different piece of legislation in place, there should be some consistency,” Backus told Jason Rantz on KTTH 770 AM. “There should be some general foundational issues that we all agree on.”

Despite the frustrations mayors and other government leaders are feeling, Backus is personally glad the last bill in the legislative session failed to pass. The substitute bill that was created to fix the State v. Blake decision would have classified knowing possession of a controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance as a gross misdemeanor rather than a simple misdemeanor, but was ultimately amended in the House back to a simple misdemeanor after passing in the Senate.

State Legislature battles over criminalizing drug possession

“I’d like to think that all of our cities can work together,” Backus said. “There could be some differences in Seattle, and I don’t know exactly what those are, and I certainly don’t want to speak for another city, but my way of thinking is if we don’t have similar laws in each one of our cities, people are going to start cherry picking which cities they go to, to use and possess drugs.”

Backus made it clear to Jason Rantz that she wanted both possession and use to be considered a gross misdemeanor in the state. Additionally, King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn introduced an ordinance that would make public drug use a misdemeanor.

Spearheading the rampant drug use, both within the state and nationwide, is fentanyl. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 110,236 people died in a single 12-month period last year, a new record.

Three hundred ten deaths related to an overdose of fentanyl were reported in King County last year, surpassing the previous record of 195 homeless deaths set in 2018, The Seattle Times reported. Last year’s figure marked a 65% jump over 2021.

“I don’t want to criminalize addiction. I want people to get help, but sometimes it means there has to be an incentive for them to get that help,” Backus said. “We have our own community court here in Auburn. We believe in a treatment-first approach, but it’s not right for everyone. And jail is certainly not right for everyone, and there’s no desire to hit everybody with criminal charges, but there has to be some motivation.

“We’ve been told for a long time that substance use disorder is a disease, so at what point are we going to do the humane thing and help individuals who have a substance use disorder? Who could be on fentanyl?” Backus continued. “Tranq, the newest ugly drug, or meth or any of the others when they can’t make good decisions on their own, at what point do we say enough is enough?”

New ‘tranq’ drug spreading through Puget Sound region

Tranq is a name for a drug from a veterinary tranquilizer, xylazine, which has exploded in recent years to the point where it was found in more than 90% of heroin and fentanyl samples, according to StatNews. Abusing the drug comes with a wave of wounds — abscesses and lesions — which have been described as something that looks like “it’s eating away your flesh from the inside out.”

“We’re not willing to let you die out here on the streets just because Narcan is available,” Backus said. “That’s not saving lives. That’s prolonging a life. I want to save lives.”

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Auburn mayor frustrated over Olympia’s failure to pass drug possession law