SEATTLE (KOMO) — The Seattle City Council has rejected Council Bill 120586, which would have empowered the City Attorney to prosecute drug possession and public use.
The City Council voted 5-4 in favor of rejecting the bill. Without it, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office will have the sole authority to prosecute drug-related crimes.
The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) provided KOMO News a statement regarding the city council vote:
Seattle’s drug crisis is a public health emergency that is worsening by the day and one that demands urgent action. We see this emergency and its impacts daily in downtown. Allowing these conditions to persist is inhumane and unacceptable both for those in the throes of debilitating and life-threatening addiction and members of the public who are exposed to toxic fumes on our streets, in our parks and on our public transit systems. Our ambassador teams have been on the front lines of this epidemic, administering Narcan to 117 individuals since October 2022, including 91 people already this year.
DSA's statement went on to say that during what's considered a "critical time for recovery" in the downtown area, the use of drugs in public spaces is a significant factor in community members feeling unsafe in exploring the city or returning to work.
The statement also referenced a poll that indicated that 77% of voters agreed with the statement that "Seattle’s hands-off approach to people using illegal drugs in public is contributing to rampant street crime and is making it much harder for downtown to recover." According to DSA, 63% of those voters "strongly agreed."
The legislation, sponsored by Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen, aimed to "codify" the law and has the backing of Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison.
"I am outraged that today some City Councilmembers chose to take no action against the soaring opioid epidemic in Seattle," said Davison following the vote. “Seattle will now be the only municipality in the State of Washington where it is legal to use hard drugs in public.
Following Davison's statements, Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold responded with one of her own.
"City Attorney Davison’s outrageous statement that ‘Seattle will now be the only municipality in the State of Washington where it is legal to use hard drugs in public,’ is an inexcusable mischaracterization of the law," said Herbold. "As a result of Governor Inslee’s special session, the legislature approved a bill that adopts a statewide standard of gross misdemeanor for both possession and public consumption."
If passed, the legislation would have given Davison and her office the power to prosecute these cases and, or push for treatment. The bill would have also made the knowing possession and public use of illegal drugs a gross misdemeanor.
We had one job -- conform to state law making drug possession and public use a gross misdemeanor – and we failed," said Councilmember Sara Nelson. As a result, the City lost out on a crucial new tool to get more people into treatment and reduce the negative health and safety impacts associated with consuming deadly drugs in parks, on sidewalks, on public transit, and other public places.
Prior to the city council vote, King County Prosecutor Leesa Manion sent a letter of clarification to councilmembers and Mayor Bruce Harrell, urging them to pass this ordinance, adding that the city attorney and police need the ability to enforce this.
This process for this specific legislation was fairly uncommon. Usually, city council ordinances have to go through smaller committee votes before they are presented for a full and final decision.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell provided KOMO News with a statement following the city council vote:
It’s unacceptable for people to consume illegal drugs in public spaces – not only is it unhealthy, it makes communities feel unsafe and unwelcome. Regardless of this vote, our focus will remain on arresting the dealers and traffickers bringing this poison into our communities, along with advancing new and innovative approaches to ensure those in need receive the treatment they deserve as described in our Executive Order.