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Local ordinance making public drug use an arrestable offense a success in Marysville, police say

State law requires police to refer drug users to treatment twice before they can be charged with a misdemeanor - a rule some cities are trying to circumvent.

MARYSVILLE, Wash. — The Chief of the Marysville Police Department Erik Scairpon says they aren't waiting for Olympia to pass a bill strengthening drug possession laws - he claims a city ordinance making public drug use an arrestable offense has already been a success.

Marysville Officer Dylan Burnett showed KING 5 the ordinance in action, taking a reporter to known trouble spots he makes a point of visiting between calls.

“My crew will come through here at least a couple times a set and clear these buildings and make sure there’s no new camps or anything that shouldn’t be in there,” Burnett said. “You can see all that foil he’s picking up right now is from fentanyl use."

Since late December, thanks to a newly passed city ordinance, his department has had the ability to arrest people using drugs in public – a response to a state law that requires police to offer treatment at least two times before arresting someone for using drugs in public.

“To send an officer out to deal with a community problem three times when we can address it in the first time is really a drain on public safety resources,” Scairpon said.

Marysville's approach is being considered statewide. Senate Bill 5536 is currently making its way through Olympia. That bill would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor statewide.

On Monday, Bellingham’s mayor pitched a similar ordinance to the city council but was unanimously shot down due to a lack of available diversion options.

“If we don’t have a therapeutic court and other options in place at this time, then further criminalizing or trying to arrest our way out of addiction is just insane,” said Hannah Stone a Bellingham City Councilmember.

Marysville, three months into enforcing its tough-on-drug policy, is touting its success, citing 74 arrests in the time the ordinance has been in effect. 

“We are looking to the state legislature to create a broader fix for our state, we think that’s important, but what we are doing here is working,” Scairpon said.

As for Senate Bill 5536 – that bill would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor statewide. The bill has passed the Senate and a vote in the House is expected within the next two weeks. 

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