We applaud the Olympia City Council for establishing drug-free zones around five of the city’s most important community-gathering places. The ordinance marks another determined step by this council to redevelop and revitalize its downtown.
The significance of council’s action is both symbolic and practical.
First, the drug-free zones set clear expectations. As Councilman Steve Langer said, “We need to make a really clear statement that it’s not OK to be dealing and using drugs in our city center. We need to send a strong message.”
Olympia business and property owners, and dedicated downtown shoppers, have waited a long time for the city to state so clearly what kind of behaviors it will and will not tolerate.
Allowing drug dealers to operate so freely, especially around the Intercity Transit Center, has held the community back from making progress on other crucial needs.
The overabundance of drug dealers in downtown undercuts the efforts of those working hard to help our poor and homeless residents improve their lives. It also makes the work of the proposed People’s House harder.
Getting drug dealers out of downtown will help those who seek sobriety and recovery, and show that our community supports their success.
Second, the drug-free zones push drug dealers toward treatment programs.
Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim says the new ordinance represents a game-changer for accused felons. At present, a drug dealer can choose a 60- or 90-day jail sentence, or an 18-month process focused on treatment, rehabilitation and accountability through the Thurston County Drug Court.
Dealers most often choose jail as the price of doing business. They’re back on the street making money after a two or three month interruption.
With the enhanced penalties under the drug-free zone ordinance, dealers won’t have such an easy choice. Jail times could be two to three years. Tunheim believes, and we agree, that pushing dealers toward treatment options will produce long-term benefits.
Coupled with Olympia’s stepped-up foot patrols and the city’s renewed partnership with the Thurston County Drug Task Force, the ordinance sends a powerful message: the freewheeling drug dealing days in downtown Olympia are over.
As one citizen said to council, “The people of Olympia want their parks and public spaces back.” Our City Council has taken another big step in that direction.