Seattle City Council votes to adopt new public drug use law
The Seattle City Council on Tuesday vote to adopt a version of Washington State’s laws on public drug use. It adds the crimes of knowing possession of a controlled substance and use of a controlled substance in a public place.
Most communities in the state have conformed to new laws on controlled substances passing into law last May. The state laws make public drug use and possession a gross misdemeanor, allowing city attorneys to prosecute the drug charges.
Mayor Bruce Harrell released the following statement:
“Today’s vote by the City Council is a needed step forward in our efforts to address the deadly epidemic of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. Fentanyl is tragically killing thousands in our city and around the country, and we need urgency and innovative solutions to make change.
“This legislation cannot make all the difference on its own – but linked with treatment programs, health services, and diversion options, we can help people who are suffering from the disease of substance use disorder find and access a path to recovery.
“In this bill, we are also making it clear that putting the public’s health and safety at risk when consuming drugs is unacceptable. Everyone in our city deserves to feel safe and to be safe – waiting for a bus, entering a small business, walking any street in any neighborhood. This law will help us toward that goal.
“We will continue pursuing a dual public health and public safety approach – leading with treatment for those suffering from substance use disorder and focusing our law enforcement resources on the dealers, traffickers, and individuals causing the most harm. No single solution – and no single city – can solve this crisis independently. That’s why we need continued support from the county, state, and federal governments to fund and advance our shared efforts.
“While a routine codification of law could have taken place months ago, our office has taken advantage of this extended experience to bring together law enforcement, service providers, and impacted communities; defined diversion as our preferred approach; and initiated and invested in needed new care strategies.
“As soon as this bill reaches my desk, I will sign it. After analyzing final adjustments to the bill and amendments from throughout the process, my office will issue an Executive Order in the next week to provide training and guidance to the police department on implementation, as well as metrics to track progress.”
So far this year, through September 18, there have been 761 overdose deaths in King County involving fentanyl, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County, putting the region on track to set a tragic new record of fatal overdoses per year.
The passed legislation will:
- Codify state law making public consumption of illegal drugs a gross misdemeanor in the City’s criminal code.
- For the first time in the City’s history, designate diversion and treatment as the preferred approach to addressing substance use issues – connecting people with care and responding to a public health crisis with evidence-based health solutions.
- Define a new threat of harm standard – differentiating between drug use that threatens others, recognizing the real and perceived danger of consumption of illegal drugs in public places, and aiming to support safe and welcoming neighborhoods by reducing public use.
This ordinance will complement ongoing public health and safety priorities advanced by the City to address the fentanyl and synthetic drug crisis. In April, the mayor issued an Executive Order advancing new public health strategies and law enforcement focuses related to fentanyl and synthetic drugs. Efforts include:
- Launching expanded Health 99 program focused on responding to overdoses and connecting those suffering from opioid use disorders to treatment and care.
- Investing $7 million in capital funds toward facilities that would provide post-overdose diversion, treatment and medical care, increased case work and provider coordination, and day center services.
- Funding expanded mobile medication delivery for opioid use disorders
- Allocating ongoing funding to harm reduction providers
- Initiating an innovative contingency management drug abatement program in cooperation with Plymouth Housing
- Reinvesting in We Deliver Care to provide frontline care to those suffering from addiction in the downtown core.
The Mayor’s Office commenced the Fentanyl Task Force, which is working on better understanding and improving how the criminal legal system interacts with individuals suffering from opioid use disorders who come into contact with the criminal legal system. This includes assessing the diversion and treatment systems, as well as evaluating a potential successor to community court. The City, via the Office of the City Auditor, is also engaged in an audit to assess best practices for place-based public safety interventions, specifically where there is open drug use.