City of Kent creates legislation roadmap with drug possession ordinance

May 3, 2023, 3:39 PM

Kent drug possession ordinance...

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph introduced an ordinance stating drug possession (of controlled substances other than marijuana) will soon be a gross misdemeanor. (TVW)


Despite Governor Jay Inslee calling lawmakers back to Olympia for a special legislative session regarding the state’s drug possession law, the city of Kent took matters into its own hands with its own ordinance stating drug possession (of controlled substances other than marijuana) will soon be a gross misdemeanor.

“We did it last night,” Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said on The Gee & Ursula Show. “Our council voted unanimously on an ordinance to make possession of controlled substances a gross misdemeanor in the city starting July 1st.”

Other examples of gross misdemeanors include reckless driving, shoplifting, DUI, some variations of domestic violence, assault, and malicious mischief, while a misdemeanor includes charges of disorderly conduct, harassment, or trespassing.

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“A gross misdemeanor gives our court more flexibility. They can go up to 364 days in jail as opposed to up to 90. It allows us a little bit more control in that conversation, and it talks about the seriousness of the penalty of a crime,” Ralph said. “At the gross misdemeanor level, there’s nothing saying that the judge will give a full sentence. In fact, my gut tells me we will see very few of those. It just allows for that flexibility.”

Additionally, Ralph stated the city will still use the same process already in place for access to treatment including multiple options before or after a sentencing — all coming with the ability to vacate the conviction if treatment is completed.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’ve got programs already in place,” Ralph claimed. “We want to make sure that this is a very treatment-forward ordinance and make it clear that that’s the goal, right? We want everyone at the very beginning to say, you know what, I’d rather not go through this legal process. I want to get into treatment. And then they’ve got multiple off-ramps throughout the process.”

In Olympia, Inslee called for a 30-day special session to help create legislation that works for both sides, and can call for an additional special session if necessary if a deal has still not taken shape by May 16.

State Legislature battles over criminalizing drug possession

“The governor has been saying that there have been vigorous negotiations going on since the legislative session ended without a drug possession law, and that’s really not the case, according to the people who are actually involved in the negotiations,” reporter Matt Markovich told KIRO Newsradio. “We’re hearing that the governor met with the leaders of the House and Senate last Tuesday a week ago yesterday, and they haven’t heard from him since. Privately, the eight members of a committee that’s supposed to be working out a compromise have been talking, but nothing really [took shape] until this past Saturday, when the House Republican leader Drew Stokesbary sent everybody a letter, including the governor, about the reasons why Republicans voted down the bill at the last day of the session.”

According to the letter, the reasons from Republican legislators were they wanted it to be a gross misdemeanor while also extending treatment diversion by up to 12 months.

“This way, you just can’t say you go to treatment for a week or two, and then you’re clean and you can get your record expunged,” Markovich added. “No, you have to commit to 12 months of diversion with a six-month review by the prosecutors to see if you’ve actually done your due diligence on treatment, or you may serve jail time at that point.”

Other reasons included wanting to give cities in the counties the ability to establish their own laws regarding paraphernalia and blocking treatment centers from being placed in areas with high drug use, as it could be too tempting to have people who are seeking treatment walk out the street.

“We’re not even close to a deal,” Markovich said. “Even Roger Goodman said they’re not even close. They can’t even agree on the gross misdemeanor vs. misdemeanor decision.”

This gap in negotiations led Kent’s city council, spearheaded by Mayor Ralph, to develop its own independent ordinance. Ralph claimed the city has seen a significant increase in public drug use in places like parks, in front of businesses, and on sidewalks, while also seeing a substantial increase in property crime.

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“Addiction is expensive and we’re seeing property crime, retail theft, that kind of thing, being used to support that habit,” Ralph said. “And the reality is people know. I have been out with our police department and saw people using in a park, and they say there’s nothing you can do about this, and they literally walk away.

“I think that this ordinance that we passed last night really honors a majority of the conversation we heard from the Legislature, it’s workable,” Ralph continued. “This is going to be workable for both our courts and judges. We’ve been talking to our judges, who are on board 100% with this. We just really think this creates a roadmap for the Legislature.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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City of Kent creates legislation roadmap with drug possession ordinance