Cities search for solutions to drug possession issue after lawmakers fail to pass legislation

More cities across the state are planning to take matters into their own hands when it comes to drug possession laws.

This comes after lawmakers in Olympia failed to pass meaningful drug possession legislation during the session.

At this point, if a special session isn’t called and lawmakers fail to act again, all drugs in the state would be decriminalized starting July 1. This is because current legislation expires on June 30.

Some mayors are pushing for city ordinances that would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor and put some offenders behind bars. However, this could add more strain to already overcrowded jails, like in Pierce County.

“Our jail is extremely short-staffed right now. We are minus at least 60 corrections deputies,” said Sgt. Darren Moss of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. And it’s not just staffing shortages — Moss said right now, they’re almost at full capacity.

“Ninety-seven percent of our people in our jail right now are violent felons, not just like fraud or burglary, violent crimes,” Moss said. An alternative to jail time some mayors are also proposing is an option for treatment.

Dr. Richard Ries, the head of the addictions division at Harborview Medical Center, said most people don’t know what treatment really looks like and entails.

“Treatment doesn’t just happen over a few, 28 days or something like that, treatment is ongoing because most people that this is going to affect don’t have mild disease, they have more moderate to severe disease,” Ries said. He also explained that there are still a lot of gaps in treatment services because many don’t provide counseling or behavioral services. Plus, space is very limited.

“It’s not as just simple as, well, go to jail or go to treatment. If there’s no treatment to go to, it doesn’t work very well,” Ries said.