May 15, 2023
For the second time in two months, the Lakewood City Council adopted an ordinance focused on increasing public safety. The latest ordinance amends city code to allow law enforcement to arrest people who knowingly possess controlled substances and charge them with a gross misdemeanor.
“The legislature adjourned last month without an adequate solution to protect the community against drug use and possession. Due to the uncertainty at the state level, we knew we needed to do something for our residents,” said Lakewood Mayor Jason Whalen. “We passed this legislation to protect our residents and provide our law enforcement the tools they need to keep our community safe.”
Under the adopted ordinance a person who knowingly possesses a controlled substance can be charged with a gross misdemeanor, as defined by state law. A gross misdemeanor is punishable up to 364 days in jail, a fine up to $5,000, or both.
In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court invalidated the state’s felony drug possession law due to what was ruled to be a Constitutional defect, saying state law did not include the element of knowledge. In response, cities across the state responded by adopting local ordinances incorporating this element. As a result, known possession of controlled substances became a crime in those jurisdictions, including in Lakewood where it became a gross misdemeanor.
The state Legislature then passed a law that pre-empted local governments. This removed local authority to enforce city ordinances that make drug possession illegal. The state law goes away after July 1, 2023.
The Legislature is expected to reconvene May 16 to address the discrepancy. The Lakewood City Council took action Monday to show its residents that it takes their safety seriously, regardless of what happens at the state level.
“We can’t wait for state legislators to make the right decision,” Whalen said. “We need to protect our community. The action we took tonight does that.”
The ordinance was adopted unanimously. It takes effect in 30 days.
In March the Lakewood City Council adopted two other public safety-focused ordinances. They included making it a gross misdemeanor to use illegal drugs in public places and making it illegal to “camp” in public spaces. Both ordinance were adopted unanimously.