King County Councilmember proposes regional ban on public drug use

Proposal comes following what Reagan Dunn is calling a “failure” of the state Legislature.

Following the closure of the Washington State Legislative Session, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn introduced on April 26 an ordinance that would make public drug use a misdemeanor in King County.

Dunn’s proposal was made after what he called in a statement regarding the proposal, the Washington State Legislature’s “failure to provide a permanent state level drug possession law in the wake of the Supreme Court’s State v. Blake’s decision.”

The Washington Supreme Court’s State v. Blake decision was made in 2021. It ruled the state’s statute outlawing simple possession of illegal drugs was unconstitutional because the statute did not explicitly state that an offender would need to have “knowing intent” of their drug possession, which in turn decriminalized drug possession in the state.

The state Legislature has passed temporary solutions to the issue of drug possession. But many, including local mayors in South King County, have asked for a more permanent solution that allows law enforcement to penalize those who use drugs in public.

Following this year’s legislative session, local jurisdictions have until July 1, 2023, to pass their own ordinance penalizing drug possession before the stopgap state possession law expires. After July 1, there will be no state law prohibiting individual possession of drugs — including fentanyl, methamphetamine and heroin — at any location, including sidewalks, bus stops, parks and playgrounds.

This is why Dunn seeks to implement a countywide prohibition of public drug use.

“Enabling open air drug use in our communities hurts everyone — not only our children and law-abiding citizens, but the drug users themselves who are, tragically, dying in droves from overdoses,” Dunn said in a statement. “King County must act immediately to protect the safety of our communities by making the consumption of dangerous drugs in public an arrestable offense.”

Language in the proposed ordinance states that if passed as is, it would be “unlawful for any person to knowingly use a controlled substance in a public place unless the controlled substance has been lawfully prescribed to the person using it. A violation of this section shall constitute a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not to exceed ninety days.”

According to a statement from Dunn’s office, Dunn also sent a joint letter with Pierce County Councilmember Dave Morell and Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring to the Washington State Association of Counties, encouraging a more “aggressive” approach in dealing with the state Legislature’s “inaction,” including providing model legislation that cities and counties can adopt to make public drug use illegal in their respective jurisdictions.