In an abrupt change of course, a split Bellingham City Council approved an ordinance that bans illegal drug use in public. Council members approved the ordinance 5-2 last night, March 27th.
Mayor Seth Fleetwood, who proposed the ordinance earlier this month, said it would interrupt “a cycle of open, brazen use in public with impunity” during a committee discussion Monday afternoon.
If it passes, use of a controlled substance in public without a prescription would be a misdemeanor subject to arrest. Public use of alcohol and marijuana are civil infractions, similar to a traffic ticket, because they are legal intoxicants.
Fleetwood proposed the new ordinance in the wake of the 2021 state Supreme Court decision in State v. Blake that limits the power of police to arrest people for drug use. His measure would also create a special “therapeutic court” to help people beat addiction and possibly have their charges waived.
In a March 13 committee discussion, the City Council unanimously decided that more work was needed on the plan and tabled it indefinitely.
City Council members said at the time that they agreed with the intent of the proposed ordinance, but that they wanted to hear more details about the so-called “therapeutic court” for people who are arrested for drug use.
Several City Council members reconsidered their stance after hearing from local residents. Apparently, there’s political favoring swift action to limit public drug use and criminal activity downtown.
“What I’m hearing from the downtown business owners is that there needs to be something to interrupt the behavior and it is not happening.” ~Bellingham Council Member Skip Williams.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Drug Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.