Seattle city attorney calling on council to approve new drug possession law

Jun 6, 2023, 10:26 AM

Seattle drug possession...

A homeless man holds a syringe after injecting methamphetamine into his arm in Seattle. Widespread drug addiction is endemic in Seattle's large homeless community, which the city is currently trying to move out from shared public spaces. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Seattle City Council will debate if they should give the City Attorney power to prosecute drug possession cases, with a new city ordinance incorporating Washington state’s new law passed in an emergency session in May.

A new drug possession law was recently passed statewide, classifying it as a gross misdemeanor, with a penalty of a maximum of 180 days to 364 days in jail, depending on the circumstances.

The state’s current drug possession law is set to expire at the end of June, while several cities and counties have passed their own drug ordinances in case the state fails to pass its own law.

Seattle City Attorney announces plan to criminalize drug use

Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison proposed a version of the ordinance in April that specifically focuses on public drug use. This new proposal would also criminalize possession of a controlled substance.

Davison is calling on the city council to approve her proposal, which is sponsored by Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen, that would apply the state law city-wide.

“Every day we wait, we do lose people to overdose. And that is really the point. The point is to save lives and to make our streets and parks safer … We want to get something that is available for getting people into treatment, and to intervene in antisocial behavior and to discourage public drug use,” Davison said. “There’s been nonenforcement of possession. And what we are seeing as the problem is public drug use is making our streets and our buses, and our parks unsafe. And it’s certainly not helping getting people into treatment.”

Other councilmembers have come out against the ordinance. Tammy Morales issued a press release urging the city council to stop the “return to a failed War on Drugs in Seattle.”

“I want it to be abundantly clear that this legislation will have deadly consequences. While this legislation is moving forward without being studied, we have more than 50 years of data that demonstrates how the War on Drugs is a failure and that imprisoning people for substance use disorder doesn’t just destroy lives, it makes people 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose when, and if, they get out,” Morales said in a statement.

The King County Department of Public Defense, SEIU 925, the union representing King County’s public defenders, ACLU-WA, Evergreen Treatment Services, REACH, NW Immigrant Rights Project, and PROTEC17 all joined Morales in urging the council not to pass the bill.

The council meeting is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, and you can watch the meeting live on the Seattle Channel.

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Seattle city attorney calling on council to approve new drug possession law