Washington Weighs Idea of Taxpayer Funded Safe Injection Sites for Heroin Users

My fellow officers and I often lamented that our politicians should either make a substance legal or illegal but choose one.

King County (WA) Superior Court Judge Veronica A. Galvan has been weighing whether to allow a citizen initiative to ban the county’s planned introduction of “safe injection sites” (SIS). The wait is over, and proponents of the ban were not surprised. Judge Galvan struck a gavel blow against the democratic process by voiding a certified citizen initiative. In Washington state, one means of passing laws is that voters may qualify a citizen initiative for the ballot. The initiative, I-27, brought by a group of King County voters, would have secured a public vote on banning “safe injection sites” (SIS).

SISs are legally sanctioned clinics established to enable illegal intravenous drug use in a calm and clean environment. Judge Galvan disenfranchised King County voters who were exercising a legal right under Washington state law to redress a grievance with their government.

Reasonable people may support drug legalization, or are at least open to a discussion, but this is not about legalization. Government supporting the use of a legal drug would be one thing, but supporting an illegal and life-threatening behavior with taxpayer money and depriving those taxpayers a voice is very different.

Among the myriad daunting requirements to qualify for the ballot, supporters needed to gather 55,000 voter signatures. They submitted nearly 70,000 to the county clerk, aiming for the November ballot. I-27 supporters said King County moved the process as slowly as it could, throwing up impediments, forcing the initiative onto the February 2018 ballot.

Unable to thwart I-27 supporters through shady administrative tactics, Dr. Bob Wood, former HIV/AIDS program director at Public Health-Seattle & King County, sued I-27. According to the Seattle Times, Wood, “[doesn’t] think public initiatives ought to overrule policies and recommendations that have been made through the appropriate processes.” In other words, voters don’t have the “expertise” to vote on “public health” issues. It’s stunning how leftist elites fail to recognize their own political bias, instead believing they’re right and everyone else is wrong—no debate allowed. Sorry, Dr. Wood, whether government should force people to facilitate the use of an illegal drug is eminently debatable.

Ironically, I-27 was created under the supervision of King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. However, when it came time to do his job and defend the initiative in court, he abdicated his responsibility to his constituents and bailed on them. Unless things change on appeal or the US DOJ gets involved, voters will have no say in their government aiding and abetting—and funding—illegal heroin use in their cities. But I suppose if they’re willing to ignore laws against possessing and using felony narcotics, they’ll also ignore laws that codify the voters’ rights to the initiative process within the state constitution, Article II, Section 1.

It’s stunning how leftist elites fail to recognize their own political bias, instead believing they’re right and everyone else is wrong—no debate allowed.

Despite the voters’ right to create law through citizen initiatives, drug sanctuary advocates also say allowing voters to vote on health matters would “politicize” the issues. That is jaw-dropping coming from the left, who politicize everything.

As a police officer, I had to deal with drugs, drug users, and drug dealers and the aftermath of their irresponsible actions. Of course, the issue truly has a health component. I’ve seen drug users’ grotesque, oozing abscesses, open wounds, and necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating bacteria). But the issue also remains a criminal one as well as one of financial propriety. Nevertheless, King County appears to be ignoring those aspects. Hasn’t that become the Democrat way, though? The left doesn’t like a law, ignore it—resist.

Police Morale

My fellow officers and I often lamented that our politicians should either make a substance legal or illegal but choose one. Don’t just disregard existing law as these government-sponsored drug sanctuaries would. Government ignoring its own laws impacts cops. Having decided to disregard certain lawbreaking in specific circumstances, city, county, and department leaders then order police officers not to enforce a particular law around an exempt place. Possess heroin while going into a county drug sanctuary, no arrest. Possess the same drug in a park a block away, you’re busted! Makes you wonder if they’ve ever heard of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

This leftist, political corruption is no surprise to law enforcement. I saw, as far back as the early 2000s, that King County was already signaling its eventual heroin use policy. At the time, my partner and I were field training officers (FTOs). We and our student officers were on a foot beat in Seattle’s Freeway Park (a concrete gray punctuated with lush green city park built over Interstate 5, peppered with numerous nooks and crannies, enchanting anyone intent on conducting illicit activities to enter).

We came upon two men, crouched on the grass between two bulkheads, about to shoot up. One man had a syringe poised over a vein, thumb on the plunger, needle tip in his arm. The other man, the same, but the needle hovered above his leg. Our students announced themselves as police officers, which caused both men to stop and lower their syringes. That surprised me, as it might have been their last high for some time.

Our student officers arrested the two users, collected the drugs and paraphernalia, entered the items into evidence, and booked the suspects into jail. Then they completed the required felony narcotics paperwork and submitted an “alert packet” to the King County prosecuting attorney’s office.

Several weeks later, we all received a “Decline to Prosecute.” And what reason did the prosecutor give us for declining the case? Insufficient evidence. Four cops had witnessed this felony crime, committed in broad daylight, in a public park. So, as I said, Judge Galvan’s ruling is not surprising to law enforcement, but it’s still infuriating.

King County, along with its largest municipality, Seattle, is intent on shoving SISs down the throats of King County residents. These would be the first in the United States. Neighboring Canada has had them for over a decade. In fact, Vancouver, BC, only a few hours north of King County, provides a great example of the blight and crime that can follow these drug sanctuaries. The director at Vancouver Coastal Health offered this bit of crystal ball encouragement: “If we [SIS] weren’t here, it would be even worse.” Well, I’ll bet that makes nearby residents all warm and fuzzy.

But I-27 supporters report that King County drug sanctuary proponents seem to have no interest in going to British Columbia to see the results for themselves before they inflict these possible negative consequences on their communities. One county council member, Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D), a supporter of injection sites, confirmed in an interview with Kirby Wilbur on KVI 570 AM radio that she has not visited the Vancouver injection site.

Joshua Freed, a Bothell city council member, organized the initiative effort. On April 14, 2017, Freed filed the proposed citizen initiative with the King County Clerk. If passed, I-27 would have stopped the operation and funding of supervised heroin injection facilities.

Speaking on the Todd Herman Show, KTTH 770 AM, Freed said, “It’s infuriating to think that we worked for six months, raising funds, thousands of volunteers out there, 69,850 signatures, people expecting for their voice to be heard, and the very people they elected to represent them are not listening.” The left’s disrespect for the rule of law is exasperating.

After Judge Galvan stomped all over the initiative process by asserting, among other reasons, that initiatives cannot affect King County appropriations or budget, Herman wrote, “Alicea-Galván has laid the groundwork for the elitists in King County to do what they want to: make voters shut their mouths and open their wallets because, if affecting the budget invalidates, then all of them [initiatives] are invalid.” Every single ballot initiative requires King County do the processing. Processing needs lawyers, and lawyers cost the county money—even their own lawyers. If this were a legitimate impediment to proposing a citizen initiative, state law could not allow any citizen initiatives.

As mentioned above, King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg approved the initiative’s text and title. However, when drug sanctuary supporters revealed their intent to disqualify the initiative, through court action if necessary, Satterberg bailed on his constituents. He would not defend the initiative he’d approved if it went to court. Freed said, “Once an initiative is approved by elections officials, it must go on the ballot according to the county charter; not even the county council can stop it.” If the county charter requires it, doesn’t it logically follow that the county’s attorneys must defend it?

As we know, I-27 did go to court, and Satterberg did it. Wouldn’t this have been seen by the judge as a signal to the court it had tacit approval to void the initiative? And that’s what King County Superior Court Judge Veronica A. Galvan did. Of course, Judge Galvan’s pedigree includes sitting on the liberal Seattle Municipal Court, so can we be that surprised?

Some 70,000 citizens did the right, democratic thing. They saw something they didn’t like, but, unlike the left, they did not break stuff, set things on fire, or hurt people. Instead, they followed the law and worked within the democratic process available to them. For their efforts, a leftist judge slapped voters in the face.

So, King County’s council, prosecuting attorney, and now a superior court judge are abridging the peoples’ rights and placing the sole decision-making authority to infect communities with drug sanctuaries in the hands of unelected health officials. The proponents would have had a better argument if this were only a health issue, but it’s not; it’s also a criminal issue and a tax expenditure issue. Heroin is still illegal, yes, even in King County, and in Washington state, and certainly, in the United States. But the left seems to care so little for the rule of law. If you don’t like it, work to change it.

Still another argument in favor of drug sanctuaries is to keep drug users from using on the streets and to get them to agree to treatment. My prediction—no noticeable decline in street use, and very few drug sanctuary seekers will choose treatment. Several years ago, Seattle built a “drunk house” (yes, really; the city provides apartments to street alcoholics so they can drink in peace, off the streets). If street alcohol consumption went down, it wasn’t to any significant degree I’ve seen. Go to Seattle; see for yourself. I once contacted a drunk house resident for drinking a beer in public. He was sitting/lying on a sidewalk over a mile and a steep hill climb away from where he lived.

Think about it: you offer a clean “safe” place with all the necessary, sanitized paraphernalia to inject heroin and enjoy all the transient, blurry comfort it brings. What addict would choose treatment under those circumstances? During the interview with council member Kohl-Welles, mentioned above, Wilbur asked something to the effect of wouldn’t this be like treating alcoholism by giving an alcoholic a safe place to drink? Does any reasonable person consider prescribing the “safe” consumption of alcohol to be an effective treatment for alcoholism? Oh, wait… Seattle does.

There’s another, more universal issue about government suppressing a vote. An important facet of the social contract democracies espouse is that violence against government is not valid as long as people have a right to vote. Losing an election or ballot measure is not a valid reason for violence, no matter how much you hate losing, because you have a right to vote to change things. But what happens when the few people in whom we trust political power abridge the peoples’ right to vote because they don’t like what the people may vote for? If people can’t vote for change using the avenues provided them in law, then what are their peaceful alternatives?

Now, I would never advocate violence in a democratic republic, but is it wrong to remind those in power of the unintended consequences of quashing the people’s right to express their will with the vote? If it happened here, why wouldn’t it happen in other circumstances? The Democrats are afraid of how the electorate might vote on something they want, so they use a liberal judge to suppress the voter’s will. Isn’t it the Democrats who are always accusing the Republicans of voter suppression? Isn’t this a clear case of it?

In aiming for utopia, the left keeps saying they only need to put their ideas into proper practice to realize their socialistic dreams. Just shut up, and you’ll thank us in the end.

Democracies remain relatively peaceful because their populations have a right to effect change through the ballot box. They can redress their grievances and express their preferences by voting not only for office holders but also on referendums and other ballot measures—in this case, citizen initiatives brought by the people.

This judge’s decision frustrates the will of those who signed the petitions to get the I-27 on the ballot. But it also frustrates all King County voters who will not have a say about whether their government should create and operate drug sanctuaries, which will be hosted in voters’ neighborhoods.

In aiming for utopia, the left keeps saying they only need to put their ideas into proper practice to realize their socialistic dreams. Just shut up, and you’ll thank us in the end. So, if society is not living in a utopia yet, since the left is never wrong, they just need to do it “right” this time—and the next time—and the time after that. They haven’t been successful yet, only because their ideas haven’t been put into practice correctly or, my other favorite, government hasn’t spent enough money yet. So, if we try just one more time, doing it right and spending just a little more money (or a lot), utopia is only one more heroin injection away.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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