Seattle Mayor unveils new proposal to fight open-air drug use

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a new plan on Monday that is aimed at cutting down on open-air drug use and boosting addiction treatment in the city. 

Advocates say this could be a major move forward in the fight against drug use in Seattle.  

The mayor says in this latest proposal, there will be guidance offered to police officers on when to make an arrest for a drug crime. He says that guidance, combined with funding for treatment, could help this legislation pass.  

Open-air drug use is a problem many feel passionate about. In June, residents and business owners gathered in Belltown demanding change and asking for a solution. At that Belltown meeting, Councilmember Sara Nelson stated that Seattle was, "the only city that did not have conforming legislation" to bring it in line with new state drug laws. She urged leaders to pass legislation at that time. Her statement was met with a round of applause.   

Monday, the mayor announced his new plan, hoping to do exactly that: to tackle fentanyl and other illegal drugs in Seattle, including legislation that would bring Seattle in line with the state.  

Harrell says it will be accompanied by an executive order that will offer guidance to police.   

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"What’s the same is it adopts the state law that we call the post-Blake Fix, and under the post-Blake Fix, you may recall, the officers were required to give referrals before arrests were made," said Harrell. "The legislature came out with the fix. That’s what’s the same, is that we are adopting the state law. What’s quite different is we went more specific on what an arrest looks like and what it should not look like."

The mayor's proposed bill would codify state law and make public consumption of illegal drugs a gross misdemeanor.  It would also for the first time in the City’s history, designate diversion and treatment as the preferred approach and define a new threat of harm standard.    

"It also brings in the threat of harm standard, which makes it clear, that if people are a threat to others, if they are in an area where people are trying to catch the bus, or where they are trying to shop or bring their kids in a stroller, these areas need to be safe, and it gives us the ability to make arrests when they need to happen," said Mayor Harrell.  

The plan also includes $27 million to invest in facilities, treatments and services to address the opioid crisis.   

"We want them accessible, we want them close and convenient," said Mayor Harrell. 

The legislation does need to be voted on by council members. Harrell says it will be formally transmitted to the council Wednesday. He believes it will pass before the two-week break at the end of August.  The mayor says the legislation could be implemented about 30 days after it passes.