Ban on safe injection sites won't be on King County ballot after state Supreme Court ruling

KING COUNTY, Wash. -- King County voters will not be deciding whether to ban safe injection sites after the state Supreme Court ruled that such an initiative tramples on the legislative authority of King County and the King County Board of Health.

I-27, a measure that would have banned safe drug injection sites in King County, garnered enough signatures to make it to the ballot, but Protect Public Health, a group advocating for safe injection sites, filed a lawsuit challenging the initiative. A King County Superior judge ruled in favor of Protect Public Health, and the Supreme Court's decision upholds the lower court ruling.

The initiative was crafted by Safe King County, an organization that's opposed to public funding for the controversial sites.

King County lawmakers and Seattle city leaders have proposed opening two safe injection sites, one in Seattle and another outside city limits, as a response to the growing opioid epidemic. San Francisco and other cities are considering similar sites, but there are currently no safe injection sites operating in the United States.

The sites would allow drug users to inject heroin in a controlled environment that would be staffed with medical professionals. There would also be outreach to patients and treatment options available.

""Every Justice ... told parents of children addicted to heroin they cannot legislate to stop their own tax dollars from being used to pay for government funded heroin injection sites," Safe King County said in response to the state Supreme Court's ruling. "It is revealing moment in our State’s history that we must rely solely on the federal law enforcement for protection from a tiny elite that seeks to impose a dangerous social experiment on vulnerable communities."

Other Washington cities, including Federal Way, Bellevue, Auburn and Renton, have passed measures to ban safe injection sites in their towns.

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles has been a vocal supporter of safe injection sites, in part driven by her own personal family tragedy. Her 26-year-old nephew died of a drug overdose.

“I’m very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision. Public health policy should not be decided by a people’s initiative," she said. “Safe injection sites have the potential to change the trajectory of a person’s life. I only wish my young nephew had access to one before he died.

“We have to try something new. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. Too many people are dying," she continued.

Q13 hosted a five-part debate about safe injection sites in October 2017. You can watch the debate below.