In a letter sent to Senate and House Leadership today, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, representing employers, small businesses, nonprofits, and residents in the urban core of Washington’s second largest city, urged legislative leaders to address the increasing impact of illegal drugs on our community by adopting key provisions in SB 5536.

“This session, the Legislature has the opportunity to address both the necessity to treat individuals with substance use disorder and provide effective tools to initiate and complete treatment,” said Emilie Cameron, President & CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. “It’s crucial that Washington motivate individuals into treatment, restore our public spaces and address the devastating impact of drugs in our communities.”

Urgently requesting that legislative leaders—including Spokane-based Senate Majority Leader Senator Andy Billig—to address the increasing impact of illegal drugs, DSP stressed support for adopting a reasonable and balanced SB 5536 that addresses the priorities for treatment, offramps into diversion and legal action to incentivize participation. DSP called on the Legislature to restore key policies adopted in the Senate version of SB 5536 that establishes a gross misdemeanor penalty for drug possession with required sentencing for drug-possession convictions if the court finds willful abandonment of treatment or consistent failure to comply with treatment.

In the letter, DSP also called on legislators to reject House amendments to SB 5536 that would preempt the ability for local municipalities to regulate drug possession or use in public spaces. According to the Spokane County Medical Examiner, deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2021 increased by over 285 percent from 2020. Meanwhile, open drug use in public spaces exposes families, visitors, workers, and others who also use these places to not just undesirable conditions, it also exposes them to negative health hazards and all too often predatory crimes to finance drug purchases.

DSP’s letter also raises concerns about the designation of treatment facilities as “essential public facilities” in SB 5536, calling on legislators to remove the provision for more evaluation to ensure local jurisdictions have input from neighborhoods prior to such facilities opening. At a minimum, DSP called on the Legislature to include the requirement to conduct at least one public hearing on the establishment of new opioid treatment programs, recovery residences, substance use disorder treatment facilities, and harm-reduction programs in the neighborhood or affected community where it will be.