Initiative 27, scheduled for February’s special election, was struck down because it infringed on the work of public-health authorities, a judge ruled.
Letting voters decide whether to ban safe-injection sites would infringe on the power of the King County Board of Health, King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván ruled Monday.
The ruling, if upheld on appeal, would knock the initiative off the February special-election ballot.
It’s a victory for advocates of safe-injection sites, who want to open facilities in the county where drug users could inject under medical supervision. But the decision is a blow to supporters like state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who represents Federal Way and Auburn.
“I’m completely shocked about this ruling,” said Miloscia, a Republican. “To say this drug epidemic is a public-health crisis and therefore it’s immune from the public having a say in it is completely unprecedented and wrong.”
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I-27 sought to ban public funding for safe-injection sites and thwart the recommendations of a King County opioid-addiction task force last year. The task force report cited research on a long-operating safe-injection site in Vancouver, B.C., showing that medical supervision reduced overdoses and infections from HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. The opioid task force recommended one site in Seattle and one in an undetermined King County location.
These proposed safe-injection sites have been controversial — many cities in King County have voted to ban them, including Bellevue and Federal Way.
The I-27 campaign gathered more than 47,000 signatures, enough to make the February ballot, and proponents say that means voters should decide on it. But those who brought the lawsuit against I-27, formed under a group called Protect Public Health, said the judge’s ruling is in line with the law.
“We don’t think public initiatives ought to overrule policies and recommendations that have been made through the appropriate processes,” said Dr. Bob Wood, the former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County. “We’re happy that the judge ruled in our favor.”
Alicea-Galván’s ruling cites a 1992 Washington Supreme Court case that kept controversial needle-exchange clinics open.
“Our Supreme Court has recognized the broad authority (that) public health authorities have in protecting public health and addressing responses to public health crises,” Alicea-Galván wrote.
Representatives of I-27 didn’t respond to request for comment by press time Monday night. On Tuesday morning, Joshua Freed, the initiative’s chief sponsor and a Bothell City Council member, said they plan to appeal.
If they do appeal and the initiative gets on the ballot, the King County Council will put up an alternative: The council voted Monday night to add a measure on the February ballot that would create two safe drug-injection sites — if Initiative 27 goes on the ballot.
More people die of opioid and heroin overdoses each year in Washington than car crashes; the Centers for Disease Control calls drug overdoses an epidemic; and President Donald Trump is expected to declare opioid addiction a national emergency next week.
Miloscia said any legal challenge to the initiative should have been made after voters had their say.
“They’re moving to where everything is a public-health emergency, and only they can decide,” Miloscia said. “You can’t have these appointed, elite experts saying they know better than the voters.”
Wood said initiatives like I-27 tend to be popular votes made by people who don’t take the time to “look at the details and have a good informed opinion about the issues.”