MARYSVILLE, Wash. - In its struggle to curb drug-related crimes and substance abuse, the city of Marysville has come up with its own work-around for legislation that decriminalized drug possession in Washington state.
Under a 2021 decision, police have to refer drug users to treatment on their first two drug possession-related offenses before they can make an arrest the third time.
The Marysville City Council voted to enact a public ordinance that would allow officials to arrest someone on their first drug possession offense.
"Our council took action that enacted a public ordinance that prohibited the use of narcotics in public," said Marysville Police Chief Erik Scairpon. "We also took forward an ordinance that allows our officers to enforce public transit rules when it comes to disorderly conduct on public transit."
Scairpon says he’s not trying to "re-criminalize" low-level drug possession, but he says open drug use has become much more than a nuisance – it was a threat.
"We don’t want them to continue to victimize our community and victimize themselves," he said. "The police, to be able to step in and be that last resort stop, where we’re able to interrupt the cycle of addiction-- we can get them working with one of our embedded social workers, we can get them referred to treatment."
The ordinance still gives those caught using drugs an ‘out’ by accepting treatment but stands firm on jail time if they don’t.
"We can’t just leave law-bidding citizens to the mercy of this problem that we’re facing as a society, this drug epidemic" said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring. "We need our citizens to feel safe on a bus, right, I mean, that’s the only form of transportation for a lot of folks, is a bus and so we can’t have them saying man I don’t feel safe."
Since the new ordinance took effect last month, there have been eight arrests for public drug use and two arrests for disorderly conduct on public transit.
"We will pass laws and we will enforce them to protect the citizens, while we’re also trying to find help for those that need," Nehring said.
The mayor and police chief are both hoping for a more permanent fix to state law in the new session beginning Monday.