Judge rules that Initiative 27 seeking ban of safe injection sites can't go before voters

SEATTLE -- Talking around the table at the John Volken Academy, a long-term drug treatment center in Kent, the men at the academy say a King County judge's ruling on Monday blocking Initiative 27 from the ballot leaves them with mixed emotions.

The ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván stated that a ruling that I-27 is "invalid, null and void because it extends beyond the scope of the local initiative power" and cannot appear on the February ballot.

The judge wrote that the Supreme Court has recognized the broad authority public health officials have in protecting public health.

“I think everyone has different opinions and they get to choose what they think is right, and the best way to do that in a democracy is to let the people decide,” said Larry Hunt, a recovering heroin user.

Three years sober now, Hunt says safe injection sites would have been an unlikely place he’d go.

“I’m not going in there with the mentality of stopping using the drug, I’m going in there with the mentality of using the drug, safely,” said Hunt.

Matt Baum, also a recovering heroin addict, “I used heroin for 14 years,” says the sites would’ve made him use more heroin at once.

“If I have someone on hand with Narcan, I’m going to go big and I’m going to do as much as I can and someone is there to support me and bring me back,” said Baum.

Supporters of Initiative 27, which called for banning the sites in King County, gathered nearly 70,000 signatures of registered voters -- enough to get it onto the ballots.

King County plans to put one safe injection site in Seattle and one in another part of King County.

Baum says if the sites open, they’ll bring up the rate of drug use and create a social norm that makes drug use acceptable.

“I believe if we make that the social norm that drug use is normal, people who grow up now are seeing that. I believe in the long-term it will make drug use rates go up,” said Baum.

These men says they know firsthand about drug use, but are willing to hear all sides.

“I’m ready to listen to the guy next to me saying these are the reasons why it’s a good thing,” said Hunt.

That person in favor of the ruling is Dr. Bob Wood.

“I was pleased,” said Wood.

Wood was the former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at King County Public Health. He says he understands the controversy of injection sites, but says they do work.

“The evidence is quite strong in their favor, they are quite successful in preventing overdose deaths, and they are worth the cost of developing those programs,” said Wood.

Wood says Public Health takes a cautious approach on where sites like this are placed and that once people learn more about them, they will be more receptive.

“We’re very pleased the judge basically said that people who haven’t really looked at the problem can’t over turn programs that are set up though reasonable processes,” said Wood.

A ruling now making reasonable processes a part of the conversation on this very controversial issue.