Mill Creek has new drug law — it could be obsolete in days

The city council re-criminalized drug possession, while state lawmakers debate their own legislation.

MILL CREEK — As state lawmakers debate whether to recriminalize simple drug possession, the Mill Creek City Council has passed its own ordinance.

Within days of it taking effect, the city’s new law could become obsolete.

That’s because it could soon be overridden, should the state Legislature come up with its own solution that pre-empts local laws.

Mill Creek follows Marysville as the second city in Snohomish County to pass a local law in response to the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision. In the February decision, five justices found the state’s statute criminalizing drug possession as a felony was unconstitutional, because it didn’t require prosecutors to prove someone knowingly, intentionally possessed drugs. It was a curveball that has far-reaching implications for the criminal justice system.

The Mill Creek City Council passed its ordinance on Tuesday with a 4-1 vote, making it a gross misdemeanor to possess a controlled substance without a prescription. A violation is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

Mayor Pro Tem Stephanie Vignal was the lone no vote. Council members John Steckler and Benjamin Briles abstained.

Following the example of Marysville, the new law offers a simple fix by adding a requirement that a person must “knowingly” possess a drug, with intent to use it.

The ordinance was first brought forth by City Councilman Vince Cavaleri, who is also a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy. He argued that public safety should be the city’s top priority.

“I’m asking you to support this legislation because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “There’s no downside to this. We’re not creating something new that didn’t exist before.”

Without citing crime statistics, Cavaleri pointed to Portland and Seattle as examples of what happens when city leaders permit drug use.

“They’re under siege with the criminal element,” he said. “The residents, they’re hostages.”

Vignal said she wasn’t opposed to criminalizing drug possession, but she was worried the council was rushing to make a law that the state may soon make obsolete.

“I want this body to craft policy that is going to solve problems and stand the test of time,” she said, “not be in a hurry to pass something tonight, for headlines, that may be irrelevant … by the next time we meet.”

The new ordinance won’t take effect until about April 24, after a public notice is published.

The last day of the Legislature’s 2021 regular session is April 25.

The state Senate passed a bill on Thursday that also makes the knowing possession of drugs a gross misdemeanor. That bill is now in the House. If signed into law, it would pre-empt local ordinances per the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Vignal suggested that the council table the discussion indefinitely, in anticipation of the Legislature’s decision. Her motion failed.

Steckler and Briles agreed with Vignal’s sentiment. In abstaining from the vote, they clarified that they also weren’t opposed to the ordinance itself.

“I’m not afraid to make a decision,” Steckler said. “I just think this is illogical to rush into this.”

In a previous city council meeting, Mill Creek Police Chief Jeffery Young said the drug possession law can be an important tool — not just to address crime, but also to introduce those experiencing addiction to services.

Councilman Mark Bond said he wanted to give police back that tool. He didn’t see a need to hold off for the Legislature.

“While we’re waiting, we can take some action,” Bond said. “This isn’t really that complicated.”

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry route will only have one vessel until late June, Washington State Ferries announced after an engine fire on one vessel and ongoing crew shortages. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)
Coupeville ferry route down to one boat through June 27

Another delay in two-boat service means Coupeville ferry riders should expect long waits until June.

Volunteers from the Rotary Club of Arlington and local Cub Scouts planted trees at Stormwater Wetland Park on May 1. (City of Arlington)
Scouts, Rotarians collaborate to restore an Arlinton park

Rotary and Cub Scouts plant trees in Arlington Stormwater Wetland Park has… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1386 on Monday. Here, he talks in Tukwila before last week's signing of the new capital gains tax bill. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)
Inslee signs bill extending tax break used by area cities

It’s helped Arlington and Marysville attract new businesses to Cascade Industrial Center.

Matt Reed (left) with his mother-in-law, Karen Alvin, remembers the day Meredith Reed died leaving behind baby Dylan, born two months premature. Meredith died of an embolism in her lungs just after Dylan was delivered by C-section April 15.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
A tragic loss, a fragile new life, a mother never forgotten

Meredith Reed died of a blood clot in her lung the day her son Dylan was born three months early.

From the third floor crow's nest of its new building in the port's South Marina, Everett Yacht Club Commodore John Seger points out what will be the club's dock on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Everett Yacht Club, at 114, gets a new home in South Marina

Once a fancy destination, the old building will be demolished — amid many changes to the city’s waterfront.

Pedestrian hit, killed by train in Marysville

Roads were closed as police investigated the scene on 88th Street NE and State Avenue.

Everett man sentenced for crashing into police car head-on

Thomas Susnios, 27, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault. He was sentenced to 8½ years in prison.

Jeffrey Phebus is sentenced to over 31 years in prison for the murder of his wife Rebecca Phebus, on Monday, May 10, 2021, at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
‘No words’: Arlington man sentenced for killing wife at work

Jeffery Phebus, 61, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 31⅔ years in prison Monday.

Detectives are seeking the public’s help to identify a suspect in a bank robbery that occurred on Monday, April 26, at the Wells Fargo Bank located in the 1200 block of 13th Street in Snohomish. (Snohomish County Sheriff's Office)
Police: Snohomish bank robbery suspect rented getaway car

Police tracked down a Sultan man with the help of a rented car with Montana license plates.

Most Read