Judge rules in favor of safe injection sites; blocks I-27 from getting on the ballot

SEATTLE -- A King County judge on Monday ruled an initiative calling for the banning of safe injection sites would not be allowed on the ballot in February.

The ruling is a win for Seattle and King County leaders who have been fighting to create two safe injection sites.

Opponents of safe injection sites gathered tens of thousands of signatures qualifying I-27 to get on the February ballot.

But supporters of safe injection sites then petitioned the court to block I-27.

Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea Galvan ruled that Initiative 27 extends beyond the scope of the initiative power. She ordered that it not be placed on the February ballot. The judge wrote that the Supreme Court has recognized the broad authority public health officials have in protecting public health.

The heroin and opioid epidemic is affecting many people, including King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

“My young nephew at the age of 26 died a little over a year ago from an overdose -- not in this state -- he’s been in and out of treatment,” Kohl-Welles said.

She believes safe injection sites, which would be supervised, could save addicts from overdosing while protecting the public from used needles.

“What parent would want their child to go into a McDonald’s bathroom and find needles, step on them or pick them up?" Kohl-Welles asked.

The idea is to have health officials monitor users but also encourage treatment onsite.

“Any such site would open up in a hot spot where there are known addicts,” Kohl-Welles said.

Opponents say safe injection sites will worsen the epidemic.

“They are giving these addicts the ability to destroy themselves and hurt themselves further,” said David Stockton, who works with recovering addicts at John Volken Academy, a local rehabilitation program.

He said money should be spent on rehabilitation centers -- not on places to consume drugs.

“The culture of enablement, I don’t think it’s working, if you see the programs around Seattle -- this is one of those programs,” Stockton said.

“I don’t see it as enabling. I see it as smart and we can’t get people into treatment if they are dead,” Kohl-Welles said.

Kohl-Welles said the safe injection sites will be a pilot program for three years. The locations have not been determined but one will be in Seattle and the other in the county.

Despite the judge’s ruling not to put I-27 on the ballot in February, supporters of I-27 says the fight is not over. Supporters of I-27 will most likely appeal the ruling.

“I don’t think it’s going to go away, there are enough people who have a concern over this,” Stockton said.

State Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, is one of them. He says in 2018 he will fight to pass legislation banning safe injections sites statewide.

Meanwhile, the Bellevue City Council voted unanimously to approve a permanent ban on safe injection sites in Bellevue. Several other cities in the area have done the same thing.