ACLU-WA statement on City Council vote on ordinance proposing to criminalize drug possession and use under Seattle’s local laws

News Release: 
Tuesday, September 19, 2023

SEATTLE – Seattle City Council is voting today on a proposed ordinance that would add criminalization of drug possession and use to the City’s code and expand the authority of the City Attorney to file criminal cases in the City’s municipal courts. Seattle community members previously criticized the proposal as a continuation of the failed policies of the War on Drugs, relying on criminalization to address profound public health crises. 

The criminalization of simple drug possession has perpetuated racial disparities and failed to prevent either the arrival of fentanyl or the current overdose crisis. These policies have ruined people's lives, exacerbating the root causes of their substance use disorder and presenting new barriers to housing and employment. This approach fails to prevent the deaths of people with substance use disorders, and compounds that struggle by criminalizing and stigmatizing their medical condition. 

Jazmyn Clark, ACLU-WA's Smart Justice Policy Program Director, had this reaction: 

“Seattle residents deserve modern, evidence-based solutions that build on this century’s learnings about what works to stabilize and move people onto the continuum of recovery. This is, at its core, a public health problem. Seattleites are bearing witness to distressing behavior because our behavioral health systems have been starved of resources for decades and are racing to meet the heightened need and current science with too little fuel in the tank – handcuffs do not solve that. Jails are not a legitimate path to recovery.  For true drug policy reform, we must replace policies grounded in racism and punitive policing with evidence-based approaches focused on social determinants of health.”