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Federal Way considers harsher punishment for smoking fentanyl in public

The first reading of a measure prohibiting the use of fentanyl in public spaces passed unanimously. A final vote is expected on May 3.

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Officials with the city of Federal Way want to prevent people from being exposed to the fumes from one of the most dangerous narcotics in the world: fentanyl.

Federal Way is considering a city ordinance that would go after people smoking it in public by punishing them with jail time and fines.

Federal Way's fight against fentanyl use was front and center during an April 19 city council meeting. The first reading of a measure prohibiting the use of fentanyl in public spaces passed unanimously. 

The ordinance, rooted in what it refers to as "reckless use" states that if a person is knowingly smoking fentanyl and exhaling the smoke in an outdoor public space within 10 feet of another person, or in any enclosed public space, it would be a gross misdemeanor. The offense would be punishable by up to 364 days in jail or up to a $5,000 fine or both.

"All anybody has to do is call 911, either the driver or anybody on that bus if it occurs in the City of Federal Way. Officers can respond and board that bus. This would give them the ability to do it,” said Federal Way’s Mayor Jim Ferrell about the ordinance during the April 19 meeting.

“I would be in favor of it if it is an ongoing thing,” said Ken Price, President of ATU Local 587, the union representing transit operators.

Price says the union has been reaching out to city leaders in King County after hearing from transit operators reporting fentanyl being smoked on buses.

“Our operators were so frustrated; they weren't filling things out. This big push of the union and others brought a skyrocket of reports,” said Price.

According to data King County Metro released in January, drug use on buses reported by operators went from 44 reports in 2019 to 73 reports in 2020. The number sharply increased in 2021 with nearly 400 reports.

As for fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid is linked to a large number of overdoses, and Price says operators don't want the fumes from that drug on their buses.

If a person can die from the smoke right there, right from you, how can it not affect me as an operator?” asked Price.

Federal Way City Council will be discussing the ordinance again on Tuesday, May 3, which is when a final vote is expected.


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