The Bellingham City Council has rejected a proposal that would make public drug use a crime. The ordinance would have made the use of a controlled substance in a public place a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
By state law, drug possession is only a misdemeanor on an offender’s third arrest for the crime. On the first two arrests, police are required to refer offenders to drug treatment programs.
The City of Marysville was able to pass two similar city ordinances preventing public drug use late last year. The first ordinance prohibits the use of controlled substances in public without a prescription. The second ordinance will further prohibit inappropriate behavior aboard transit, at park-and-ride lots, or at bus stops.
The city has been grappling with open drug use of fentanyl and other narcotics. Businesses have complained about the impact.
Mayor Seth Fleetwood hoped that his proposals would be the start of improving conditions downtown:
“These actions are the next step in a multi-year focus on downtown, where public health and safety concerns continue despite nearly one million dollars in investments in security personnel, downtown ambassadors, graffiti abatement, sanitation and other services last year and continuing this year.” ~City of Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood.
Apparently, Bellingham police responded to 87 overdose calls this year. That compares to 70 overdose calls in all of 2022. Council members argued that it wasn’t so much they were against the proposal, it was that they did not see an adequate plan to deal with people after they were arrested. Councilmember Hannah Stone was among those who voted against the ordinance.
“If we don’t have a therapeutic court and other options in place at this time, then further criminalizing or trying to arrest our way out of addiction is just insane.” ~Hannah Stone, City of Bellingham Councilmember.
Currently, police can not even tell drug users that using drugs in public is illegal.
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.