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Debate grows around push to ban public drug use in Bellingham

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood is pushing to ban public drug use in the city, but his proposal is facing criticism from city councilmembers.

The mayor argues local businesses and visitors feel unsafe in the city, but councilmembers are concerned about the potential impact on the already crowded Whatcom County Jail.

“In recent weeks we’ve had an increase of concerns voiced by downtown merchants and community members,” said Fleetwood.

During a council meeting on Monday night, Fleetwood explained that the ban is not a cure-all solution but rather another tool in the toolkit to address the issue of public drug use in Bellingham. Violators would face the choice of addressing their addiction or going through the courts.

Bellingham City Councilmember Lisa Anderson said she’s worried the mayor is putting the cart before the horse.

“My concern is the aspect of arresting and not having the other services on the other side,” said Anderson. “If they’re arrested, where do they go? Because we don’t have space in the jail.”

Fleetwood also wants to establish a therapeutic court, but that could take months to get up and running.

Lighthouse Mission President Hans Erchinger-Davis, who works with approximately 2,500 homeless people each year, believes that police intervention could be a strong incentive for some people.

“We’ve seen way more addiction than we’ve ever seen on our streets,” said Erchinger-Davis. “I think our community is at a place right now where the police intervention is actually going to be the more solid intervention.”