(The Center Square) – The Seattle City Council has passed its second attempt at a drug possession bill that makes the use or possession of controlled substances in a public place a gross misdemeanor.
The newly-passed Council Bill 120645 lines up with legislation passed by the state Legislature this session – known as the Blake fix – which makes the use or possession of controlled substances in a public place a gross misdemeanor.
The bill was proposed by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and was co-sponsored by City Councilmember Andrew Lewis. The legislation emphasizes jail diversion as the preferred approach when enforcing laws against the public use and possession of drugs. According to Harrell’s office, Seattle police officers are “expected to offer diversion services” when approaching suspects in such cases.
“The emphasis on pre-arrest diversion is so important – unlike the Blake Fix, [Council Bill 120645] does not tangle people who are not harming others in the criminal justice system as a default approach,” Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
In the first seven months of 2023, the Seattle Fire Department reported an average of more than 11 public overdoses per day in the city.
Fellow Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda does not believe the legislation puts people possessing drugs into treatment, but rather doubles down on the criminalization and incarceration approach by giving additional prosecutorial authority to the city attorney.
Harrell previously announced his intent to dedicate $27 million toward facilities, treatment and services to address substance use disorder. Harrell’s announcement included approximately $7 million in Community Development Block Grant funding. The $7 million was allocated for other purposes in prior years, but was not spent.
In a committee meeting earlier this month, Mosqueda argued that 20% of the $20 million in intended funds would go to administrative management in both King County and Seattle. The city would be given $700,000 per year rather than a lump sum, according to the councilmember.
The city council passed Council Bill 120645 by a 6-3 vote. The council meeting lasted nearly four hours, with more than 80 people signed up for public comment to speak either for or against the ordinance. Some comments from the public focused on how a misdemeanor can have a negative impact on the charged person’s life. As the bill was voted on, some of those in attendance booed councilmembers who voted in favor of the bill.