Seattle-On Thursday, April 27, City Attorney Ann Davison proposed legislation with City Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen to prohibit the use of drugs in public places including parks, sidewalks, bus stops, and public transit. This legislation is modeled after a similar ordinance passed this month in Bellingham. This legislation acknowledges the public health crisis of substance use disorder and will provide a new tool to engage those using drugs in public. In 2022, there were 589 overdose deaths in Seattle, with the majority attributed to fentanyl and methamphetamines.
“The epidemic of drug use is killing Seattle residents and depriving the public of spaces intended to be safe for everyone. We will not give up areas of our city to overt drug use and antisocial behavior, and this legislation will bring a critical tool to disrupt open-air drug markets, reclaim our green spaces and sidewalks, and protect transit riders,” said City Attorney Ann Davison. “I will continue to work with our diversion partners to help people move toward treatment and get the help they need. I call on state lawmakers to increase available residential treatment options as well as funding for in-custody treatment.”
“Our hands-off approach to people using illegal drugs in public has resulted in rampant street crime and a death toll rivaling that of COVID-19 in Seattle. Complacency is no longer an option. Cities have laws and enforcement to dissuade activity that is harmful to oneself and to others – from speeding in school zones to unlawful possession of firearms – and public use of deadly drugs should be no exception.” – Seattle Councilmember Sara Nelson (At-large, Chair of the Economic Development Committee)
“It’s simply not okay for people to smoke fentanyl or to use other illegal drugs in our public spaces or on our public transit, and the laws on the books need to reflect those basic public health and safety standards – so everyone knows it’s no longer the ‘wild west’ in Seattle.” – Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen (Chair of the Transportation Committee)
More than half of King County overdoses in 2022 happened in Seattle, predominantly in the downtown core. Overdose deaths in Seattle have increased by 72% year over year. Limited tools currently exist to require engagement in treatment for substance use disorder. By making public consumption of controlled substances a misdemeanor, this legislation provides the City Attorney with the ability to prosecute public drug use or divert those cases for treatment in appropriate circumstances.
The City Attorney’s Office has worked with the LEAD program and other service providers for 6 years to provide treatment and alternatives to traditional prosecution. Following the Washington State Legislature’s failure to pass SB 5536, approximately millions of dollars in appropriated funds for treatment, diversion and harm reduction are unable to be accessed by cities like Seattle.