Yesterday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution that asks Seattle cops to make enforcement of entheogens, aka psychedelic drugs, their lowest priority. The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Andrew Lewis, brings Seattle into the national conversation on the issue, according to Lewis. Oakland and Santa Cruz, California; Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and the State of Oregon have decriminalized some or all entheogens.
“It is a long overdue conversation to decriminalize these non-addictive natural substances,” Lewis said. “Our law enforcement officials certainly have more important things to do than arrest people for possession of entheogens, and this resolution affirms that.”
Before we bust out the ‘shrooms and start celebrating, there’s a few caveats.
Under current enforcement practices, the Seattle Police Department already does not detain or arrest solely for possession of entheogens. Current practices, however, do not protect growing your own entheogens or possession when you’re already in trouble for something else. The resolution recommends the police stop busting people for these offenses as well.
Also, a resolution isn’t legally binding, but, given the all-consuming nature of the budget season, Lewis thinks a resolution is the best the council can do right now to signal their desire to eventually actually decriminalize psychedelics.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant voted to support the resolution, but she wasn’t happy with the approach.
“To decriminalize psychedelics in fact rather than just in rhetoric would require an ordinance,” Sawant said. “It is this city council not the police department that has the authority to pass such an ordinance.”
Sawant said that on June 29, her office sent Councilmember and Public Safety Committee Chair Lisa Herbold a bill that would have done just that. Sawant said her office called Herbold’s office 23 times to ask her to press the button to introduce the bill, but they received no response. The bill, in Sawant’s words, “languished,” on Herbold’s desk for three months.
“I don’t see what the possible reasons are for councilmembers who claim to support this issue to let an ordinance which takes concrete action sit in the city’s computers unintroduced and instead push a resolution that only has the power to make requests,” Sawant said.
Herbold said that the council agreed to hold off on taking action until they received recommendations from the Overdose Emergency Innovative Recovery Taskforce, which asked that Seattle publicly state this policy position. Herbold also predicts a “robust” conversation around decriminalization of drugs at the state level next year following this year’s Blake decision. (In a case called State v. Blake, earlier this year the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the state's felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional. In essence, their ruling decriminalized small amounts of drugs statewide until state lawmakers re-criminalized simple possession of drugs at least until 2023.)
“I think we are trying to be sensitive to those discussions, that they’re about to occur on a statewide level,” Herbold said.
At this point, a resolution that asks the Seattle Police Department to do what it was already doing seems like a non-change, but, according to Lewis, there is some strategy.
“It's pretty rare that you find a city that has the power to countermand state drug laws,” Lewis said. “The closest equivalent that we can do is make a policy statement of lowest law enforcement priority.”
The approach is modeled after the movement to legalize cannabis in the mid 2000s. Activists introduced a citywide initiative to make pot possession the police’s lowest priority. In 2003, it passed with overwhelming support. Just under ten years later, the state came around.
Lewis said a city ordinance may be in order one day, but said that Sawant’s proposal “wasn't informed by a very detailed stakeholder and process.”
According to Tatiana Quintana, co-director of Decrim Nature Seattle, the nonprofit has been lobbying the council for this resolution for nearly a year and a half.
“In terms of strategy, [Lewis] was very supportive of an ordinance, but it kind of played out that a resolution would be a really great way to build support for an ordinance,” Quintana said. “I actually do think that the slower process of a resolution building not only awareness but support for a future ordinance is pretty smart. It's a pretty smart way to go about things.”
The Decrim team is set to celebrate the resolution’s unanimous approval this weekend, but no word on whether they’ll include tripping among the festivities. Quintana said she won’t be partaking in any psychedelics until there is an ordinance in place.