The Seattle City Council is moving toward adopting an ordinance that would conform with the new state law on drug possession and public use. Passage of this ordinance is necessary to give the Seattle City Attorney legal authority to prosecute drug cases.
On Tuesday, September 12th, the Public Safety & Human Services Committee approved the ordinance by a 4-to-1 vote. Councilmembers Herbold, Lewis, Pedersen, and Nelson voted to approve and Councilmember Mosqueda voted against. The full Council is expected to consider the legislation on September 19 or 26.
The ordinance is part of a deal brokered by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, which includes millions for treatment and diversion, and an executive order on how police should enforce the law. It would require the Seattle Police Department to adopt policies that prioritize diversion and referral services over arrests, except in some situations where there is a threat of harm to others or themselves.
The ordinance has faced public outcry and opposition from some councilmembers who argue that it does not address the root causes of drug addiction and may disproportionately affect people of color and low-income communities. Some advocates for drug policy reform also say that the ordinance is a step backward from decriminalizing drug possession and public use, which they claim would reduce stigma and harm associated with drug use.
However, the Washington Retail Association and other supporters of the ordinance believe that this is legislation is necessary to curb the rising opioid crisis in Seattle, and to provide clear and consistent guidance for law enforcement and prosecutors on how to handle drug-related cases.