Jason Rantz: Seattle, Portland effectively legalize drugs -- this movement could be coming to your town next

It’s painful to witness how these dangerous policies have rendered parts of such a beautiful region nearly unrecognizable

The Pacific Northwest has effectively legalized the use of hard drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin and other opioids in 2020 despite an alarming uptick in overdoses. As a result, not only will the addiction crisis worsen, drug dealers will take advantage.

As someone who lives here, it’s painful to witness how these dangerous policies have rendered parts of such a beautiful region nearly unrecognizable. And these policies are expanding all across the country, as Democrats like former South Bend Mayor Pete Butiegeg and businessman Andrew Yang promote once-fringe views on drug policies as life-saving and reasonable.

They’re neither. 

Oregon voters decriminalized the possession and personal use of all drugs in November. Buoyed by Portlanders in Multnomah County, Measure 110 sailed to an easy victory with 58% support. Caught with under a gram of heroin, you will now only face a $100 ticket, about the same for illegally parking in a truck loading zone.

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A walk through Downtown Portland on the way to Powell's Books on any weekend afternoon shows you what the drug culture, before legalization, has done. It’s a dangerous mess and a big reason I choose not to visit.

Just a two-and-half-hour drive north, my home in Seattle didn’t need the will of the people to decriminalize drugs.

Both the King County Prosecutor and Seattle City Attorney adopted policies that refuse charges on most drug crimes. They disingenuously argue criminalizing addiction doesn’t help the addict. Consequently, police seldom enforce drug laws. Even if they tried, the Seattle City Council muddied the waters more.

After an especially controversial budget process where the Council further defunded the police, the irredeemably progressive and socialist city council funded heroin injection sites.

Dubiously titled “safe consumption sites” (it’s never “safe” to shoot up), addicts will soon visit pre-existing social service sites around the city that offer the added “perk” of a comfortable space to get high. Perhaps we should offer mood lighting and a soothing soundtrack, too? Maybe a shoulder massage?

Am I supposed to feel better knowing the addicts I see shooting up as I walk near Denny Park in South Lake Union will soon have another dedicated space to ruin their lives? I’d rather see them get help, not have an easier time to postpone the inevitable fatal overdose.

Vancouver, British Columbia has permitted a standalone heroin injection site Downtown since 2003. It’s not gone so well.

When I visited the area ahead of a soccer match at BC Place, it didn’t resemble the city I visited a couple of years earlier.

The neighborhood housing the injection site is surrounded by homeless addicts, frighteningly high out of their minds.

It’s no way to live. Frankly, it was scary to walk through.

Drug use is rampant in the PNW. The so-called decriminalization of drugs is essentially the local legalization of them. They’re no more illegal than jaywalking or littering and I see the human suffering on display every day of the week.

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In October, Oregon public health officials warned of a 70% increase in drug overdose deaths, driven in large part by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. King County, Wash. saw an 11-year high of overdose deaths tied to meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.

Meanwhile, Vancouver, Wash. continues to see historic overdose deaths, most recently tied to a toxic infusion of street drugs.

Up in Canada, British Columbia’s chief coroner believes that “2020 could be the worst year B.C. has ever experienced in terms of loss of life due to toxic drug supply.”

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As activists and advocates in and out of city and state government focus on harm reduction models rather than the intersection of addiction treatment and law enforcement, they end up not seeing the forest for the trees. They’ve actually made the problem worse. It’s not just impacting the addicts; it’s impacting those of us who no longer feel safe walking through parts of the city.

The Pacific Northwest has created the ideal environment for drug dealers to flood the market with their deadly products.

Portland will soon experience what Seattle has already learned: drug dealers evolve. They may be degenerates, but they’re not all stupid.

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Once local charging policies changed, police discovered drug dealers would carry less product, choosing instead to resupply their saleable stash more often through the day. Once caught, they knew they wouldn’t be charged with “personal possession” amounts on them. At worse, they’d be temporarily behind bars only to be quickly released. Now, there’s rampant open-air drug dealing in parts of Seattle.

What’s worse, the policy takes away leverage the police can use against an addict to turn on their drug dealer. In the past, you could threaten an addict with jail time, as they come off a high, if they don’t give up their dealer. That allowed the officer to go after the criminals flooding the street with drugs. They could even use the threat of jail to compel someone into treatment.

Addicts know the leverage no longer exists, which not only means the dealers are still out on the streets, but Seattle officials won’t even punish addicts for their low-level offenses like breaking into cars or homes to feed their habits.

I stopped being shocked when I saw dealers openly selling heroin as I walked to then-CenturyLink Field for a Sounders match every other week.

How sad is that?

But I won’t ever forget the shock of the homeless woman that I met while on a drive-along with the Seattle police. She was blonde, looked to be in her mid-30s and was living in a tent behind a park in North Seattle. 

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During her conversation with us, she tearfully confessed what was painfully obvious: she was a heroin addict.

She knew it was ruining her life and all she wanted was help. Instead of help, her city is offering her space to shoot up, judgment-free.

As I write this, I honestly wonder if she’s still alive or if she’s another permanent victim of bad policy.

In nearby Snohomish County, local leaders learned their lesson. They, too, refused to arrest or charge for personal possession. It didn’t work, so they changed it.

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney tells me giving an addict a “free pass” actually emboldens them to continue their deadly behavior and “has the potential of being an obstacle to them getting the help we all want them to get and changing their lives for the better.”

“Sometimes a criminal prosecution is exactly what a drug-addicted person in our society needs, or at the very least needs the fear of, to put them on a path to better themselves,” Sheriff Fortney explains. “A blanket removal of this tool in the criminal justice system does not make any sense and it is fortunate that public safety leaders in Snohomish County have done away with it.”

The drug-permissive culture has been a nightmare for Vancouver and Seattle. Soon, we will add Portland to that list. And the movement is growing. It’s already advanced in states like California and Vermont.

It’s become mainstream thanks to presidential candidates like Buttiegeg and Yang.

If president-elect Joe Biden continues to embrace the progressive base, you can expect these very same policies will pop up in your hometown.

Blinded by ideology, the movement focuses singularly on the misconstrued belief that society is “criminalizing addiction.” On the contrary, it’s criminalizing criminal behavior -- which is how it’s supposed to be.

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Rather than remove law enforcement from the equation, local governments should look for more creative ways to compel addicts into treatment.

This current route says no to the very punishment that could cause someone to hit rock bottom and, finally, seek meaningful long term treatment.

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