Seattle City Council makes public drug use a crime, pushes toward treatment

SEATTLE — Public drug use will soon be illegal in the city of Seattle. The Seattle City Council made that decision just before 6 p.m. Monday evening after a contentious meeting.

This decision aligns Seattle with the rest of the state of Washington.

Public drug use can now end in arrest. But there remains a big push to get drug users into treatment.

This decision came after a pretty heated discussion. There are very strong opinions in the Emerald City about whether drug use should be criminalized.

In fact, we talked to some recovering drug addicts to get their take.

“It depends whether the person is ready to quit,” said Nikki Carleton. “You can’t force a person to quit using drugs. When they’re ready, they’re ready.”

We met Carleton across from the Evergreen Treatment Services where she gets the methadone that has kept her off heroin for the last seven years. But she said it took her 25 long years to get clean. Everyone, she said, gets there when they can.

Nothing the rest of us can do? “Right,” she said.

“But you can plant a seed,” said a 60-year-old recovering addict. “They say you can’t lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. But you can make them thirsty. If you keep putting them there, you can make them thirsty.”

The debate played out for nearly an hour and a half before the Seattle City Council.

“I’m testifying against the new war on drugs once again,” said Bailey Medilo of Seattle.

“So, if we don’t do nothing, then what are we going to do?” asked Larry Marshall, who works near the Seattle Center. “Sit here?”

“I’m rising in stern opposition to ordinance CB 120645,” said Alexander Mayben. “Our police department doesn’t care about the law. Our police department doesn’t appear to be inconvenienced at best by the need to ensure basic public safety.”

“Hey, I’m here to support this bill,” said Rudy Pantoja. “I think it’s very important as a person who works the streets along the Aurora corridor in North Seattle as well in South Seattle.”

But when the discussion was over, a majority of the city council voted yes, passing a bill that the mayor of Seattle had pushed hard for, too.

“Blood on your hands,” some shouted after the 6-to-3 vote.

That was the very strong reaction to the vote.

Mayor Bruce Harrell sent this statement after the vote:

Today’s vote by the city council is a needed step forward in our efforts to address the deadly epidemic of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. Fentanyl is tragically killing thousands in our city and around the country, and we need urgency and innovative solutions to make change.

The mayor has 10 days to sign the bill. It goes into effect 30 days after that.