Judge Strikes Down Ballot Measure That Would Ban Safe Injection Sites

Oct 17, 2017

A King County judge has voided a ballot measure that would have banned safe injection sites for drug users.

Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea Galvan ruled Monday that Initiative 27 extends beyond the scope of the initiative power. She ordered that it not be placed on the February ballot.

The judge wrote that the state Supreme Court has recognized the broad authority public health officials have in protecting public health.

I-27 sought to ban supervised sites where people can use heroin and other drugs. A group of public health experts and others sued in August to block the proposed King County initiative.

Former director of the HIV/AIDS program at Seattle-King County Public Health Bob Wood was a supporter of the lawsuit. He said the ruling was a major victory.

"We don't think that people who don't understand the details of opiate use and treatment and prevention ought to be voting on programs that are carefully thought out and tested and studied," Wood said.

I-27 campaign leader Joshua Freed said the ruling was disappointing. He said thousands of people had signed on to get the initiative on the ballot because they want to have the chance to vote on the controversial proposal.

"It's a great concern when our constitutional rights are taken away by a judge," Freed said, adding that his group is planning an appeal.

In her ruling, the judge said the local initiative process is different from the state initiative process. And in this case, I-27 conflicted with law surrounding the authority of local public health boards.

"Local initiative cannot usurp state law," Alicea Galvan said in the ruling.

King County is considering two safe consumption sites as part of a pilot program — one in Seattle and the other outside the city. They were part of a series of recommendations from a task force on opioid addition.

Supporters say the sites are a critical tool in fighting the opioid crisis and lowering overdose deaths. Opponents question the effectiveness of such sites and worry about their effects on neighborhoods.

As the judge's decision was coming down Monday, the King County Council approved an ordinance to place an alternative measure on the ballot if I-27 moves forward through an appeal. That would mean voters could see dueling measures about safe injection sites as early as February.

If King County succeeds building the sites, they would be the first such sites to operate in the United States. A safe injection site in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been operating since 2003.