Seattle City Council Rejects Bill Criminalizing Public Drug Use

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Kate Hirzel Contributor
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The Seattle City Council voted Tuesday against a bill that would have granted the City Attorney’s Office the authority to prosecute public drug use cases.

The bill’s sponsors, Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson, argued that state and local laws must work together, reported King5. It would have “added crimes of possession of a controlled substance and use of a controlled substance in a public place” to the list of offenses.

The legislation was aimed to bring Seattle in line with Washington’s new drug possession law, which will take effect on July 1. However, the council members voted against it 4-5, blocking the bill from taking effect. 

“State law without the local law is like a train without tracks, a car without keys, it’s a pen without ink,” Pedersen told King5. “You have to have them together or else it’s basically tantamount to decriminalizing.” (RELATED: ‘We’re Not Safe’: Seattle Seniors Say They’re Terrorized By Expanding Homeless Encampment)

Councilmember Tammy J. Morales strongly opposed the legislation, labeling it an escalation of the “failed” War on Drugs. Similarly, Councilmember Kshama Sawant criticized the bill, asserting that it unfairly targeted addiction instead of addressing “poverty as the root of the opioid crisis,” reported King5.

King County Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal wrote in a letter to the city council adding to these concerns. “The war on drugs has caused egregious harm to the community, especially communities of color. Due to that, Seattle has historically funded diversion programs that emphasize harm reduction.”

City Attorney Ann Davison expressed concern that the failure to pass the local law would essentially legalize drug use in Seattle. According to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, the city witnessed a staggering 72% increase in overdose deaths in 2022, totaling 589 deaths.

A coalition of 18 business associations, including the Downtown Seattle Association, wrote a letter urging council members to pass the bill. The association highlighted the impact on downtown residents, employees, families, and visitors, citing a poll indicating 77% of voters believed Seattle’s lenient approach to public drug use contributed to street crime and hindered the city’s recovery.