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Public drug use in Lynnwood now a misdemeanor

LYNNWOOD, Wash., February 16, 2023—The Lynnwood City Council passed two of the ordinances requested by the police department during their business meeting on Monday, February 13th. Both of the ordinances passed with six votes in favor and Councilmember Josh Binda abstaining.

The first of these measures makes the use of dangerous drugs in public a misdemeanor.

As the Lynnwood Times reported on, law enforcement have reported difficulty effectively policing drug use in public in wake of the Washington State Supreme Court Blake decision, State v. Blake, in 2021 and the subsequent passing of ESB 5476 by the state legislature. This state law requires police to refer those suspected of drug use to diversion services on the first two interactions with police before a custodial arrest can be made.

According to Lynnwood Chief of Police Jim Nelson, a “hole” in the law resulted in police being unable to stop those suspected of using or possessing drugs in public. The individual could simply refuse to give their name to police and walk away with the alleged drugs still in their possession.

At last week’s city work session, Nelson insisted the ordinance would be “another tool for us to divert people from the criminal justice system into the resources that they so desperately need and may be unwilling to seek themselves” and “not an attempt to fill our jails.”

While he agreed in terms of public safety, Binda expressed concerns over how this ordinance would impact “people of all demographics” and was hesitant to vote on it with no data. Councilmember George Hurst suggested having the police department report to the council in 6 months to provide data on arrests made through the ordinance.

Kent and Marysville both passed similar ordinances, with many other cities considering the issue.

The other police measure passed revises Lynnwood’s municipal code regarding automated traffic safety cameras (LMC 11.18). The ordinance restructures the fines based on the Revised Code of Washington and adds a $25 traffic safety fee to every traffic camera violation. The intention is for this fee to help offset traffic-related staffing costs for the police department.

“I recognize a concern that members of the community have that this is an opportunity for the city to generate revenue,” Councilmember Patrick Decker said. “Again, based on data that we’ve received, as I recall it’s approximately 75% of the individuals who face these fines are from outside of our community. And yet, it is our community taxpayers that pay for our police department and are bearing the financial burden… The $25 administration fee helps offset the burden to Lynnwood taxpayers by shifting those costs to the individuals who are causing that increase in cost for our Lynnwood taxpayers.”

The council also passed an ordinance to begin the 7-year process for Lynnwood to leave the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission, giving the city the ability to control its own waste and recycling contracts. Councilmember Jim Smith was the only vote against the measure.

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