Police chief proposes city drug ordinance

OHPD is drafting a city ordinance that would make it illegal to possess non-prescription narcotics.

The Oak Harbor Police Department is drafting a city ordinance that would make it illegal to possess non-prescription narcotics in wake of Washington state legislature’s failure to pass a new drug possession law.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Police Chief Kevin Dresker said he did not know of a city or jurisdiction in the state that was not also working on an ordinance.

Back in 2021, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in Washington v. Blake that the felony drug possession law was unconstitutional. Legislators put in place a temporary fix that treated drug possession as a misdemeanor, known as the Blake fix, which is set to expire July 1. If the city passed an ordinance, it could not be enacted until that date, Dresker said.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he was bringing lawmakers back to Olympia for a 30-day special session starting May 16 in an attempt to pass a new law before the current one expires. Dresker said he wanted to prepare an ordinance to present to council in case legislators do not reach consensus.

Dresker said he has looked at ordinances from other cities, including Spokane, Snohomish, Marysville and Everett, and met with chiefs and sheriffs from surrounding cities, City Attorney Hilary Evans and officials from Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs in order to draft an appropriate proposal.

Councilmembers Beth Munns, Bryan Stucky and Shane Hoffmire all expressed that they were in favor of drafting a city ordinance.

In an interview with the News-Times, Dresker said the proposed ordinance would make possession of illegal narcotics either a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor crime. He explained that a misdemeanor can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine, while a gross misdemeanor can result in up to one year in jail and higher fine.

Under the current law, officers must “divert” or offer treatment referrals to people for the first two times they are caught with narcotics. The third time, officers issue misdemeanor citations.

“The problem is, the state never set a system of how you track or note referrals,” Dresker said and called it a “cumbersome, non-effective system.”

If the city enacts an ordinance, it would be very specific in nature, Dresker said. People arrested for possession would appear in court and have an opportunity to receive treatment, possibly through the court system, depending on what council decides, Dresker said.

If an offender successfully completes a drug treatment plan, he or she could evade charges, akin to a system that is already in place called the recovery navigator program.

Dresker said it is “semi-common” for Oak Harbor police to find narcotics on people when they are arrested for other crimes, most frequently theft.

If the state legislature does end up passing a new law, cities may still be able to adopt their own, stricter laws. If the state passed a law that was deemed “good enough for Oak Harbor,” the city would simply adopt that, according to the chief.

Dresker said he would present a proposed ordinance to council prior to the end of the special legislative session on June 16.

Another hot topic at Tuesday’s council meeting was the homeless camp near the Home Depot in Oak Harbor. Dresker said the connection between drug use and the issue of homeless camps in the Oak Harbor area is “very complex.”

He said the Oak Harbor police do find narcotics on homeless people but the law as it stands now is “absolutely not effective” in getting people the addiction treatment they need. He also said that some people simply don’t want help and should be held accountable in some fashion.