The Seattle City Council did not pass a proposed bill, yesterday, that would have given the Seattle City Attorney’s Office new powers to prosecute drug possession.
Since then, inaccurate information has been shared in the press and on social media about what will happen next. City Attorney Ann Davison said that ‘Seattle will now be the only municipality in the State of Washington where it is legal to use hard drugs in public.” That is false. The people of Seattle deserve better. They deserve the truth. Here are the plain facts:
Are drugs now legal in Seattle?
No, drug possession and public drug use are illegal in Seattle and will remain illegal. The Seattle Police Department still has the power to arrest people for breaking Washington State’s drug laws. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will still have the power to prosecute people for breaking Washington State’s drug laws.
What did not passing the legislation do?
The drug possession bill rejected by the Seattle City Council would have given the Seattle City Attorney’s Office unprecedented power to prosecute some drug possession crimes under Washington State’s drug laws. This has traditionally been, and remains, the responsibility of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
By not passing the legislation, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will continue to have authority to prosecute drug crimes. The Seattle City Attorney’s Office, simply, will not get any new powers.
Can the Seattle Police Department still arrest people for drug possession and public drug use?
Yes, Seattle Police officers can arrest people for drug possession or public drug use. The decision to do so is at the discretion of the Seattle Police Department.
The absence of a City of Seattle law does not stop the Seattle Police Department from enforcing Washington State law. For example, there is no city law outlawing murder, but the Seattle Police Department still investigates those cases.
Can the King County Prosecutor’s Office still charge people for drug possession and public drug use?
Yes, the King County Prosecutor’s Office can charge people for drug possession or public drug use. The decision to do so or not is at the discretion of the King County Prosecuting Attorney.
Any decision not to take these cases or to require an interlocal agreement before doing so, is a policy choice not a legal requirement.
Is the King County Prosecutor’s Office more equipped to prosecute drug possession and public drug use than the Seattle City Attorney’s Office?
Yes, they are. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has overseen prosecution of these kinds of cases for years. Because of that, it has clear policies about what cases they would charge, a functioning drug court already up and running, and a plan for diversion and treatment to help people struggling with addiction.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office does not have this infrastructure. In fact, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office told the Seattle City Council it had not yet developed any policies around what the threshold would be for them filing charges against drug users, if they would use diversion resources to get people help, or detailed fiscal projections for how much it would cost to increase prosecutions or incarceration.
What else is the City of Seattle doing to address the high rates of overdose?
Led by Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order, the City is working on several fronts, here are some of the strategies:
- The Seattle Fire Department, working with Local 27, has expanded its Health One program to include an overdose response unit.
- The City is expanding access to naloxone, buprenorphine and methadone in high overdose areas.
- A new non-clinic based contingency management pilot program has been launched to reduce participants’ consumption of synthetic opioids, stimulants, and alcohol.
- The City is convening a workgroup to address gaps in the existing systems available to treat and respond to the opioid and synthetic drug crisis and make recommendations on how to better coordinate a treatment-first approach to reducing substance abuse disorders and overdose rates and using Opioid Settlement funds.
- Finally, the CIty is convening a task force, inviting the City Attorney’s Office, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and federal, and state partners, including the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security, to collaborate on and develop innovative approaches to target dealers and traffickers of illegal drugs.