Spokane’s city leaders should act swiftly to pass new laws restricting drug usage. Such action is necessary to make streets safer and to help businesses thrive throughout the city, but especially downtown.
Fortunately, it appears as though there’s broad-based support to take action now.
A proposed ordinance, championed by Mayor Nadine Woodward and Councilmen Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart, would make using controlled substances in open space an illegal act for which offenders could be arrested on a first offense. Called the Safe Open Spaces Act, the measure would make public drug use a gross misdemeanor.
Fresh off the heels of a state Legislative session in which lawmakers couldn’t come to terms on a new drug-use law, the city could consider a broader measure that applies to all use of illegal drugs, both in public spaces and in private settings, according to Council President Breean Beggs.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? It should be, but a while back, state lawmakers put into place what’s known informally as a two-strike law. Under that provision, police officers were required to give an offender two warnings before arresting them for drug possession or use. When encountering drug use, officers were supposed to refer the offenders to treatment, rather than incarcerate them.
While perhaps well-intentioned, the law led to little, if any, enforcement, resulting in what the community sees now: overt drug use on the streets of Spokane and other communities throughout the state. It isn’t uncommon to witness people shooting up and visibly under the influence, creating an unsafe environment for those who work in, live in, and visit the city.
The timing, in a post-pandemic setting in which professionals still haven’t returned to offices at pre-COVID levels, couldn’t be much worse.
Stronger drug laws have the support of the Downtown Spokane Partnership and other business groups. Emilie Cameron, president and CEO of the DSP, said the organization is focused on the open spaces law specifically, saying it’s essential “so that commerce can thrive, residents can enjoy their neighborhoods, and visiting families can experience the great downtown we know they should.” We couldn’t agree more, and we hope the Council doesn’t complicate the issue with partisan politics or get bogged down in the minutiae of the law.
We say all of this with compassion for those struggling with drug dependency. Those who are in throes of such addiction deserve full support and guidance toward available services. As a community, we should be doing everything in our power to help them turn their lives around and become functioning members of society.
Even so, all people must be held accountable for their actions, and law enforcement should have the available tools and means to keep our streets safe.
One important note: Beggs says it’s possible that Gov. Jay Inslee will reconvene the Legislature to address this matter, and state law would preempt anything done at the local level. Regardless, the city shouldn’t wait for the state to fix its mistake. Action should be taken now to help our city live up to its full potential as a great place to live, work, and play.
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