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Cities begin forming drug possession laws after Washington bill failed to pass legislature

FILE - Drug paraphernalia is seen on a table. (KOMO News)
FILE - Drug paraphernalia is seen on a table. (KOMO News)
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Several western Washington cities are crafting drug enforcement ordinances to encourage more users to choose treatment after legislators failed to pass a statewide law during the legislative session.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said Monday that if legislators reach an agreement, there will be a special session to pass a bill before the existing drug possession law expires this summer.

But many cities aren't waiting for lawmakers in Olympia to agree on a fix and are already crafting local drug enforcement ordinances.

The mayors of Everett and Marysville agreed that a fix is needed at the state level but did not think the one in front of lawmakers that was voted down Sunday held drug users accountable. It’s why they’re working on policies encouraging treatment, or offenders could face prosecution and jail time.

“[It] would make it a misdemeanor and has better tools for our local community to get people into treatment and diversion programs,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin explained. “You cannot go walk our streets without walking by open public drug use. We have to address this.”

RELATED: 28 Washington mayors sign letter to state legislature regarding drug possession laws

Everett’s proposed ordinance that is expected to go before City Council for a second reading Wednesday is a fix some families said they can get behind, including one Everett woman who wanted to stay anonymous.

“My kids know how to be city kids and know how to walk down a sidewalk and pay attention to things they shouldn’t have to,” she said.

Similarly, the city of Marysville plans to adopt a version of its previous law Mayor Jon Nehring said helped get more than 150 people into drug treatment.

RELATED: City of Everett considers banning open drug use in public

“We’ll reach a point where, ‘OK, you’ve got to take the treatment option, or we’re going to prosecute these crimes of possession or trespassing,’” Nehring said.

The Marysville and Everett mayors are among the Snohomish County leaders who sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to vote down the House version of what could’ve been the statewide law. They said the bill was too watered down, the language in it would have made it hard to prosecute offenders, and it required preemptions like drug needle exchanges that some cities don’t want.

“It took away the tools to incentivize people into treatment,” Franklin said. “It’s going to be a revolving door: arrest and then back out on the street.”

RELATED: Bellingham City Council votes to criminalize public drug use

They believe their options at the local level are more likely to encourage people to choose treatment.

“It does come down to the fact that you’ve got to accept the help, or we’re going to prosecute,” Nehring added.

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Lawmakers have the option to hold a special session to try to pass a Blake fix bill before the existing law expires on July 1.

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