Seattle City Attorney says her hands are tied after Council rejects stricter public drug use bill

Seattle City Attorney, Ann Davison, said her hands are now tied when it comes to prosecuting drug possession and open drug use in the city. That’s because the Seattle City Council failed to pass an ordinance that would have aligned with a law that was passed by the legislature last month. That law makes drug possession and open drug use in the state a gross misdemeanor. However, without a city ordinance to match, Davison said there is nothing she can do.

“I am not able to prosecute unless it is put into the Seattle criminal code as part of our criminal code of the city, that is the authority that gives me the ability to prosecute misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors that are referred from Seattle Police Department,” Davison said.

The vote failed to pass by just one vote.

“How could City Council ignore what is happening to our small, minority-owned businesses in the city of Seattle?” Tom Graff, the chair of Belltown United, said. “We had someone living in the doorway of this building and if you asked him do you want treatment? He would say no and this guy attacked our property manager.”

Davis said she’s ready to partner with any Councilmember who wants to pass a meaningful ordinance.

“I am disappointed in how it turned out, I don’t think it’s for the best interest of the city overall, it’s not in the interest of the public at large and I think it loses opportunities to save lives,” she said.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold put out a statement concerning what she said was a “false statement” put out by Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison:

City Attorney Davison’s outrageous statement that ‘Seattle will now be the only municipality in the State of Washington where it is legal to use hard drugs in public,’ is an inexcusable mischaracterization of the law.

As a result of Governor Inslee’s special session, the legislature approved a bill that adopts a statewide standard of gross misdemeanor for both possession and public consumption. This means that there is now a clear, statewide standard, and there is not a patchwork of differing regulations across the state.

This state law will be effective in Seattle on July 1. Nothing the Council does, or does not do, can affect that. The jurisdiction for District and Superior Court to address misdemeanor cases is specially authorized by RCW 2.08.010 and RCW 3.66.060. Authority for prosecutions will remain with the King County Prosecutor. The March 2023 filing standards that guide the King County Prosecutor’s Office decisions about prosecutions state that they can file certain behavior related to drugs as misdemeanors.

The Washington State Bar Rules of Professional conduct says it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” Like this letter from more than a hundred doctors calls for, we must – instead of peddling false claims - “enact smart, data-proven policy that will achieve our intended goals, not naive, reactive, and harmful policy that repeats the mistakes of the past.” - Councilmember Lisa Herbold

Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales put out a statement urging her colleagues to reject CB 120586 on Monday saying the bill targeted unhoused people who have substance use disorders and locked them up instead of giving them the help they need:

I want it to be abundantly clear that this legislation will have deadly consequences. While this legislation is moving forward without being studied, we have more than 50 years of data that demonstrates how the War on Drugs is a failure and that imprisoning people for substance use disorder doesn’t just destroy lives, it makes people 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose when, and if, they get out.

My district has seen the harsh impacts of the War on Drugs and the City’s unsuccessful attempts to solve it with increased police presence and incarceration. That’s why I’m urging my Council colleagues to join me in advocating for real solutions, like increasing funds for low-income housing production, social services, and life-saving harm reduction instead of jailing. -Councilmember Morales