Federal Way scraps drug ordinance after Legislature passes new law

The Federal Way City Council had planned to put a new drug ordinance in place at their May 16 meeting, but state lawmakers beat them to the punch.

During a one-day special session May 16, the state Legislature and Governor Jay Inslee passed a law criminalizing public drug use and setting the standard for drug possession to a gross misdemeanor.

Lawmakers had failed to come up with a compromise law last month. The existing law, itself only a stop-gap measure, was set to expire July 1, leaving no law on the books about simple possession of controlled substances.

That prompted cities like Federal Way to begin drafting their own laws to “fix” the hole in the law caused by the Blake decision. The Federal Way City Council had voted on the proposed ordinance during the May 2 meeting and it was scheduled for a final vote on May 16.

But the Legislature and governor agreed to a special session to address the matter and signed off on their compromise the same day as the city council meeting, pre-empting the city’s planned ordinance.

As a result, the new ordinance was “essentially moot,” according to city staff, as it would be incompatible with the new state law. The council thus agreed to take no action on their proposed ordinance.

Drug possession was a felony until 2021, when the state Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional because it could convict people who didn’t know they were in possession of drugs.

The new law, SB 5536, passed the Senate 43-6 and the House 83-13. It adds “knowingly” into the rules against possessing or using drugs, and the crimes carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail for the first two convictions.

The bill also explicitly makes it a crime to use illegal drugs in public.

The bill sets up a system to divert people into treatment, giving those convicted a pathway to vacate their conviction if they can accomplish a treatment or recovery program.

Also on May 16, the council…

• Proclaimed May 7 – 13 as Affordable Housing Week, May 21 – 27 as Public Works Week, and the month of May as Mental Health Month.

• Heard an update on the work at the city’s Hanwoori Garden and Korean Pavilion project.

• Made appointments to the city’s Diversity, Youth and Arts commissions.