'Enough is enough'; Seattle floats drug ordinance after Legislature fumbles state law

After the ‘Blake fix’ failed to pass in Washington’s Legislature, cities and counties around the state are preparing their own plans for how they’ll operate after current drug laws come off the books.

A number of municipalities including Bellingham, Marysville, Kent, Lakewood and Everett have already proposed or enacted similar legislation.

On Thursday, the Seattle City Attorney became the latest to offer up a local plan to prosecute drug use in public places.

"Enough is enough," said Ann Davison, flanked by Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pederson. "We need to reclaim our public spaces."

The announcement came as Governor Inslee, a few minutes earlier told a crowd gathered at University of Washington for a bill signing that protected abortion and reproductive health access that he was eyeing a May special session to bring back legislators for a state solution.

"I’ve been talking to leadership of all the caucuses," said Inslee. "Democrats and Republicans, there are vigorous discussions underway to get the votes, to get a bill out. We’ve talked about having a special session. It is my hope to do that in May."

It’s the most direct on-the-record indication that Inslee has given that he’ll call back legislators to Olympia to create legislation that criminalizes drugs in Washington. Previously, as the clock was running down, he made comments that he would sign a bill with either a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor penalties for drug possession.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Washington legislatures adjourn without reaching a solution on drug possession bill

The entire saga begins two years ago when the Supreme Court invalidated a law that made drug possession a felony. The Blake ruling—hence, the term "Blake fix"—led to stopgap legislation in 2021, but it was set to expire in July of this year.

Throughout the legislative session, debates broke out surrounding addiction, substance abuse and what level of penalties made the most sense.

The final version of the ‘Blake fix’ that was voted on called for a gross misdemeanor penalties, which is a step up from the current misdemeanor level that was being used in the two years post-Blake decision. It also had eliminated portions of the bill that would direct people toward treatment instead of jail.

It failed 43-55, as Democrats lost support from within their own party.

"They said they’d act in the past, and they didn’t, as people die every day," said Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen. "We shouldn’t delay here."

It’s unclear whether an eventual legislative piece from the state would supersede moves being made by local jurisdictions. However, with time running out, a number of elected officials are pushing for laws and ordinances that would criminalize drugs.

The pace of local moves are speeding up too; Davison noted she had only learned of a King County proposal from the county’s vice chair via a press release on Wednesday, the day before she, Nelson and Pedersen rolled out their own plan.

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"King County must act immediately to protect the safety of our communities by making the consumption of dangerous drugs in public an arrestable offense," said Reagan Dunn, following the introduction of a similar ordinance in King County.