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Spokane City Council to consider local drug possession law

Nick Bramhall via flickr

Later this month, Washington state lawmakers will try to adopt a permanent drug possession law. A temporary measure, which lawmakers passed to replace a law the state ruled unconstitutional, is set to expire at the end of June. In the meantime, Spokane is one of several Washington cities that may take matters into local hands.

If state lawmakers can’t agree on a compromise, drug possession will essentially be decriminalized in Washington state this summer. Governor Jay Inslee has called a special session which will start next week. But many local governments, including Spokane, say they need clarity now.

In a meeting last week – Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs – said his proposal is similar to the last version Washington lawmakers considered this spring. His version directs law enforcement and prosecutors to first direct people to community court – which mostly connects people to drug treatment, and other services.

“This, like many other laws that we've had before doesn't have an initial booking into the jail, because they just release people right afterwards, Beggs said. “If they don't go to community court, or they wash out of community court, they get a warrant for failure to appear and then the jail is much more likely to keep them in jail if they're not going to take up the treatment option.”

The proposal is an emergency ordinance, which means if it gets five votes it will go into effect immediately.

Another option, proposed by Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle, would have made public drug use an arrestable offense. That was permanently tabled by the council majority. Cathcart and Bingle, who argued the city council should consider both, say more should be done to make public areas of the city feel safe.

King County, and Seattle, as well as several smaller communities in Western Washington, have also considered there own local drug possession measures as they wait for lawmakers to find agreement.

The Spokane City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal during their 6 p.m. meeting tonight.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.