Republicans Show Up, Business Community Sits Out, Hearing on Supervised Consumption Sites

King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván gave no obvious indication this morning which way she plans to rule on a lawsuit challenging I-27, an initiative that would ban supervised drug consumption sites countywide, but afterward, the attorney representing safe-consumption opponents seemed perturbed. “As the plaintiff’s attorney [Knoll Lowney] pointed out, they only have to succeed on one of their claims; we have to succeed on multiple claims.” Stokesbury was referring to the fact that initiative opponents are claiming I-27 violates five different rules that govern local initiatives, including a rule that says that urgent public health decisions must be made administratively (that is, by a non-legislative body like the King County Board of Health), not legislatively, and that the King County Charter itself prohibits voters from undoing budget decisions by referendum. (I covered some of the other legal arguments on Twitter). Alicea-Galván plans to rule on the lawsuit by the end of the day Monday, and both sides have said they will appeal if they lose.

Earlier this year, the King County Council voted to prohibit funding for safe consumption sites except in cities that explicitly approve them; since then, Bellevue, Federal Way, Auburn, and other cities have passed legislation banning the sites wihtin their boundaries. After the hearing, I asked Stokesbury why, if cities have the right to ban sites already, I-27 proponents want the right to prohibit cities like Seattle from allowing them. “We live in a regional area,” Stokesbary said. “Some folks might live in a city but work in a different city. I don’t know if we want to go back to an era where cities aren’t connected.” Stokesbary also suggested that allowing supervised heroin consumption, in particular (safe consumption sites would cover all drugs, but opponents refer to them as “safe injection sites”) would make it “harder to dissuade people from using heroin,” in the same way, he said, that legalizing marijuana has made marijuana use more common.

Without going too deep down that rabbit hole, I noticed something … odd about the safe-consumption opponents who packed the courtroom today and spilled into an overflow room down the hallway. No, not their maroon scarves, or the baseball caps they were required to remove in the courtroom, nor even their tendency to guffaw and cough loudly when they disagreed with a point as if they’d never been inside a courtroom.

What was weird was that there were so many of them—far more than the handful of familiar faces who reliably turn out to midday hearings about supervised consumption sites. There was, it turns out, a reason for that: The state Republican Party—headed by Susan Hutchison, who remains one of Trump’s most stalwart local supporters—sent out an email to its members urging them to show up in King County Court today, and to “wear baseball caps to be identified as pro-I-27.” (Whoops.)

“Polls show that citizens overwhelmingly reject heroin injection sites as a danger to society,” the email alert says. “Unlike the city of Seattle, we want compassionate solutions to TREAT the opioid addiction epidemic.” 

The other thing about the crowd that jumped out at me this morning was who wasn’t there: Representatives from business groups in Seattle, which have effectively sat out the whole debate over supervised consumption sites. That’s notable—and represents a significant shift from just a few years ago. Groups like the Downtown Seattle Association and the  Chamber of Commerce, which were initially skeptical of another harm-reduction program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, came around to that program when it became clear that throwing drug users in jail wasn’t solving the problem of downtown drug use and disorder. Supervised consumption sites, radical as they may seem now, will serve a similar purpose: Meeting drug users where they are and offering them alternatives instead of locking them up and pretending that will fix the problem.

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