Seattle pushing to adopt WA laws on public drug use, possession

Jul 31, 2023, 3:59 PM | Updated: Aug 1, 2023, 2:19 pm

seattle drug...

Heroin syringes hang stuck in a tree at a homeless encampment on March 13, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. Widespread drug addiction is endemic in Seattle's large homeless community, which the city is currently trying to move out from shared public spaces. The city has struggled with an uptick in homelessness and violent crime in the two years since the pandemic began. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Seattle City Council is preparing to adopt the Washington State Legislature’s new drug possession laws through a new “comprehensive” legislative package that looks to not only address rampant public drug use within the city, but also expand drug treatment availability.

The legislation will divert $20 million to increase treatment and overdose response services and $7 million for new capital investments focused on leading with drug treatment.

More on Seattle’s drug ordinance: Seattle city council fails to approve new city drug possession law

“Since the Legislature adopted its law, my goal has been for Seattle to implement the Blake fix in an effective manner that responds to the two crises fentanyl has imposed on our city: A crisis of public health and a crisis of public safety,” Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis said in a prepared statement. Lewis is expected to sponsor the bill.

As written, the proposal would give Seattle the same drug possession law as the one just passed by the state Legislature earlier this year. Senate Bill 5536, known as the Blake fix, made both possession or use of a prohibited substance in a public place a gross misdemeanor — maximum imprisonment time of one year in jail plus a fine worth up to $5,000.

The suite of bills comes nearly two months after Lewis was the deciding vote to reject an ordinance that would have given City Attorney Ann Davison the authority to prosecute people for public drug use or possession.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell will also create an executive order for officers in the Seattle Police Department (SPD) on how to apply the new law, designating diversion and treatment as the preferred approach to addressing substance use issues while retaining the ability to make arrests when necessary.

In June, after the city ordinance failed to pass on a 5-4 vote, Harrell appointed a 24-member work group comprised of the four corners of Seattle government – the Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Council, Seattle Municipal Court, and Seattle City Attorney — which led to the proposed legislation. Lewis was a serving member of the task force.

More on Mayor Harrell: Seattle Mayor Harrell hints at possible drug ordinance on KIRO Newsradio

“This legislative package responds to both of these crises by giving our first responders a variety of tools to best respond to each individual’s needs,” Lewis said. “Fentanyl is killing our neighbors and it is making people feel unsafe in their city. As leaders, we have a duty to do the hard work of proposing laws that can make a meaningful impact and pairing them with the resources necessary to make a difference. I am proud to have worked with Mayor Harrell, the City Attorney’s Office, and community experts to offer the people of Seattle real solutions to these devastating crises.”

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Seattle pushing to adopt WA laws on public drug use, possession