A transit rider steps onto a Community Transit bus on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A transit rider steps onto a Community Transit bus on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Marysville aims to prosecute drug, disturbance cases in municipal court

City officials say certain crimes are rarely prosecuted. Two ordinances seek to change that in Marysville.

MARYSVILLE — Two ordinances passed by the Marysville City Council aim to give the city’s municipal court more room to prosecute public drug use and disturbances on public transit in 2023.

Both changes to city code were adopted unanimously by the council in December.

Under the new ordinances, Marysville will be able to prosecute those crimes in municipal court without waiting for county or state prosecutors to take up a case, Mayor Jon Nehring said.

Nehring said city police have seen a recent increase in incidents of public drug use, though he did not have specific data offhand to support his claim.

Up until the state Supreme Court’s landmark decision decriminalizing drug possession in State v. Blake, people caught using illicit drugs in a public space could be prosecuted under Washington’s possession laws, Nehring said, which made it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The Legislature amended state code in 2021 to make drug possession a misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Law enforcement must now refer a person to addiction treatment on their first two offenses before they can be arrested or charged with the crime.

Before the Blake decision, Nehring said Marysville police still referred people accused of drug-related crimes to treatment, but those referrals came with the threat of jail time if they didn’t go. He said over 150 people had graduated from treatment programs after being referred before the new law took effect, but very few have accepted the offer now that treatment is optional.

Treatment “is always the goal, it’s less expensive, it’s better for them to get to the root of the problem, better for everybody,” Nehring said. “Nobody wants to throw a bunch of people in jail. But unfortunately the state of mind for most of these individuals is that without the threat of some form of punishment, they almost never take treatment.”

The new ordinance makes public drug use a misdemeanor in Marysville, allowing people to be charged through the municipal court on the first offense if they don’t accept treatment, Nehring said. He said under the law, drug use will be treated similarly to how public drunkenness or marijuana use is already handled under state and city law.

City attorney Jon Walker said the ordinance includes exceptions for drugs prescribed by a doctor, since many commonly used pharmaceuticals are considered controlled substances by state regulations. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is still considered a controlled substance, but its public use is a civil infraction under state and city law, Walker said.

The current state law that followed State v. Blake is set to expire in July, but Nehring said he expects legislators will pass a law to replace it in the 2023 session. He said Marysville leaders are working with their representatives to craft a law with similar provisions to the city ordinance, but that the city would likely adopt an updated measure, including both possession and public use, if it does not. Nehring said he’s not concerned the city is stepping on the state’s toes with the recent ordinance, since there are currently no state laws addressing public drug consumption.

The other ordinance addresses disturbances on public transit, which Nehring claimed are also on the rise recently. It adopts into city code an existing state law making “inappropriate behavior,” ranging from smoking to blasting loud music or throwing objects, a misdemeanor.

Despite the existing state law, Nehring said people accused of such crimes on Marysville buses were rarely prosecuted in state or county court. Prosecutors were already under “huge strain,” Nehring said, and relatively minor offenses like transit disturbances are typically at the bottom of the list of priorities.

But Marysville officials saw the need to remove disturbances whenever possible, said Nehring, who serves on Community Transit’s board of directors. Adding the ordinance to city code allows cases to be processed through municipal courts, too, ensuring they get attention, he said.

“If we control our own destiny and have the ability to prosecute with our own city prosecutors, that just gives us more control over those kinds of decisions,” Nehring said. “We want to be taking care of our citizens here locally, should things happen here in Marysville.”

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; riley.haun@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.

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