King Co. group hopes to get initiative on ballot to ban so-called safe injection sites

A signature drive for an initiative that would ban what many call ‘illegal drug consumption sites’ in King County was launched Thursday. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - A signature drive for an initiative that would ban what many call ‘illegal drug consumption sites’ in King County was launched Thursday.

The King County Board of Health approved two safe consumption sites in February, with one in Seattle and the other in unincorporated King County.

A group calling themselves Citizens for a Safer King County needs to collect 47,443 signatures of registered King County voters by July 31 to qualify for the November Ballot.

“This is the most radical change to drug policy in America since prohibition,” said State Sen. Mark Miloscia, (R - Federal Way). “They are doing this behind some smoke filled room, the citizens need to be involved."

The ‘they’ he is referring to is a task force set up in 2016 by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. The task force recommended the creation of two pilot sites that allows intravenous drug users a safe place to injection any drug of any amount in a supervised, no questions asked setting.

Miloscia currently has a bill embedded in the state budget that would ban safe consumption sites statewide, although he admits it has a slim chance of passage.

The sites would be modeled after Insite, a safe consumption site in Vancouver, British Columbia that’s been in existence since 2003. Supporters say Insite has saved the lives of many people that would have possibly died on the streets from overdoses.

The proposed ballot measure simply reads, “Shall supervised drug consumption sites for Schedule I controlled substances (RCW 69.50.204), including heroin but excluding marijuana, be unlawful in King County?”

“Trying to find a place is damn near impossible,” said Mary Jane, an admitted heroin user who hangs out on a stretch of Holgate Street in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood, that some police officers have nicknamed “the heroin highway."

She said she’s tired of trying to find a bathroom to inject and knows business owners don’t like users shooting up in their bathrooms.

“If I had a possibility to be safe where I can use my drugs, I will go as far as I can to safely use my drugs,” said Mary Jane.

The King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force is in the process of finding a location for the two sites.

Dr. Jeffery Duchin, King County’s Chief Health Officer, said after the sites have been selected, a budget will be drafted.

He said the task force has not asked the Department of Justice for a waiver to operate the consumption site. Insite in Vancouver had to get a waiver from the Canadian federal government to operate.

“We are, right now, in the development stage looking for potential locations where we have community support and a partner who's willing to work with us to staff it and deliver these services,” said Duchin. “Again it’s in an area where there is already a lot of public injecting happening.”

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