Federal Way City Council passed a first-of-its-kind ordinance on Tuesday night, prohibiting the reckless use of fentanyl in public spaces.
“This authorizes the police to take immediate action to stop the act versus giving them a paper ticket,” said City Attorney Ryan Call at the May 3 meeting.
Council members voted unanimously to pass the ordinance (Council Bill #813). The ordinance makes the reckless use of fentanyl in public spaces a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail, a $5,000 fine or both. The ban applies when fentanyl is smoked in a public space within 10 feet of another person, or within an enclosed public space, according to the city.
Prior to voting, Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson said the ordinance targets a population who does not have other means and suggested that in stead of criminalizing, there should be an option to offer recovery services.
“I don’t see how it’s going to serve anyone to criminalize this issue,” she said. “I think the answer is really finding a way to help them to go to recovery.”
Several councilmembers agreed with Assefa-Dawson’s ask. Mayor Jim Ferrell said the ordinance is a way to remove people from the bus or public space right away, while recovery treatment could be part of their sentencing requirements later.
During public comment before the vote, resident Paul Marcos said the council should take more of a rehabilitative approach, including more research on additive behavior and recovery processes.
“I’m really sure that if you just arrest people who are just casually using fentanyl, it’s just going to make their lives a lot worse than it already is,” he said. “… At the very least, make sure that everyone who’s personally effected by this bill has a chance to have a say.”
Councilmember Jack Dovey said it is a public safety issue for the citizens in public spaces or on buses who are not partaking. He also advocated asking surrounding cities to support a similar ordinance.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion revolved around the impacts of fentanyl smoke on public transportation.
“We’re seeing broader societal challenges — from street-level crime to drug use — occasionally show up on or near transit,” said Jeff Switzer, spokesperson for King County Metro.
King County Metro is “committed to working with law enforcement and city partners tackling these issues, he added. The agency has also expanded hours and whereabouts of transit security officers and continue to hire additional officers.
“Metro’s goal is for everyone to feel secure and welcome throughout their entire journey,” he said.
Once someone smokes fentanyl, much of the drug is filtered out before the risk of secondhand smoke, according to the Washington State Poison Center.
“It doesn’t just sort of float around. … So, there’s no real risk for the everyday person being exposed to secondhand opioid smoke,” the report stated.
Federal Way’s ordinance goes into effect June 2.