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King County voters don't get say in supervised injection sites

King County voters don't get say in supervised injection sites (PHOTO: KOMO News)

King County Voters will not have a say-so on controversial supervised injection sites. The Washington Supreme Court upheld a King County Superior Court judge’s decision in a unanimous decision on Thursday.

The justices says I-27, which would have prevented King County from spending money on the site, went beyond the scope of local imitative power and would interfere in County Council’s budgeting authority.

But supporters of the ban are now backing down. Joshua Freed of Safe King County says they are considering a statewide initiative to ban the sites.

“It’s a very left-wing extreme part of our state that would like to have these places,” said Freed, who believes the ban would get overwhelming support outside of Seattle. “The legislature gives certain rights to the King County Council to make health-related type decisions; yet on a statewide initiative, we would clearly have that right -- to make health decisions."

It’s been more than two years since the Seattle/King County Board of Health approved a pilot project of two supervised injection sites, similar to several now operating in British Columbia, where a drug user can inject illicit drugs without worry of being arrested by police and under the supervision of a health care professional.

But the County and City have not been able to find a suitable fixed location. Seattle is now pursuing a mobile option and has appropriated $1.5 million for one this year.

At a well-known street camp near Seattle’s Navigation Center, several intravenous drug users told KOMO they would use a mobile site, especially in the winter.

“It’s winter, your veins get cold, your blood doesn’t run very well when it’s cold,” said one user as he was injecting himself.

"I’m very pleased about the decision,” said Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a King County Council member and supporter of the sites -- which health care workers prefer to call Community Health Engagement Locations or CHEL sites.

She said the state high court got it right and King County should look toward Canada to see success.

“Why is the Canadian government, including the British Columbia government and other provinces, setting up more of these sites? They set them up because they work," she said.

Supporters of I-27 collected 72,000 signatures, more than enough to make it on a King County ballot, before any health care professional, like Dr. Robert Wood, could file a lawsuit to stop it.

“I think its a great outcome because I’ve been worrying about the public making decisions about public health -- it should be left up to people who know public health,” said Wood, who was the former Director of the HIV/AIDS program in King County.

A King County Superior Court judge blocked it from appearing on the ballot last month, and the Supreme Court upheld that decision Thursday.

Freed says he will be consulting with attorneys to work on wording of a potential statewide initiative before making a decision to start a signature gathering effort.

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