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Washington mayors ask state legislators for tougher drug possession laws, local control over drug use

28 mayors, from Spokane to Puyallup, signed a 2-page letter to the state legislature expressing concerns about a proposed update to state law about drug possession.

SPOKANE, Wash. — More than two dozen mayors from across Washington state are voicing drug law controls to the state legislature as the city of Spokane works to make public drug use a gross misdemeanor.

Twenty-eight mayors, from Spokane to Puyallup, signed a two-page letter to the state legislature expressing concerns about a proposed update to state law about drug possession. In the letter, the mayors said the proposed update "lacks adequate accountability and restricts local jurisdictions from regulating public drug use." 

Senate Bill 5536 (SB 5536), a law concerning controlled substances, counterfeit substances and legend drug possession and treatment, is still making its way through the legislature. The current law requires two referrals to treatment before a person can be arrested for possessing illegal substances.

However, an update to the state law from the House removes the clause that makes public drug use a gross misdemeanor.

In the version passed by the House, public drug use is only a misdemeanor. Additionally, anyone convicted of this misdemeanor will receive treatment options instead of minimum sentencing.

Locally, mayors from Spokane, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Cheney and Medical Lake signed the letter. Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said the community wants to see tougher laws for public drug use.

“We need a sensible, balanced approach that includes completing treatment for those willing, a nudge for those who need it, and clear boundaries for the health, safety, and security of everyone who enjoys our community," Woodward wrote in a statement. "The Senate version did a reasonable job of working through the passionate debate on all sides.”

The mayors said they acknowledge that substance use disorder is a medical issue, but because someone with substance abuse issues can be impaired, the mayors said it's important that the law provide "tougher guardrails so that individuals enter and complete the necessary treatment and service." 

“I signed this because I vowed to help make Yakima a safer and healthier community. That includes the safety and health of all our citizens – including those with substance use disorders,” Yakima Mayor Janice Deccio said in a statement. “We want people to get the help they need. We also want the streets of our city free from public drug use, and the accompanying violence, intimidation, and vandalism that our citizens are tired of experiencing. Yakima citizens should feel safe visiting the downtown core, or any other area of the city.”

“We need tools to keep our communities safe and to connect those struggling with addiction to treatment,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said in a statement. “While it’s important to have compassion for those who are suffering, it’s equally important to have accountability and that’s what we want to see included in this legislation. It truly is a matter of life and death in Everett and throughout our state.”

Below are the mayors included in the letter:

  • Nadine Woodward- Spokane
  • Pam Haley- Spokane Valley
  • Chris Grover- Cheney
  • Cristella Kaminskas- Liberty Lake
  • Terri Cooper- Medical Lake
  • Kevin Freeman- Millwood
  • Jack Smith- Colville
  • Gregory McCunn- Chewelah
  • Jim Retzer- Colfax
  • Blanche Barajas- Pasco
  • Terry Christensen- Richland
  • Cassie Franklin- Everett
  • Jon Nehring- Marysville
  • Brett Gailey- Lake Stevens
  • Russell Wiita- Sultan
  • Dana Ralph- Kent
  • Armando Pavone- Renton
  • Nancy Backus- Auburn
  • Jason Whalen- Lakewood
  • Dean Johnson- Puyallup
  • Tracie Markley- Gig Harbor
  • Josh Penner- Orting
  • Shanna Styron Sherell- Milton
  • Bruce Hopkins- Ruston
  • Kathy Hayden- Sumner
  • Michael McCullough- Bonney Lake
  • Bill McKay- Kennewick
  • Janice Deccio- Yakima

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