Voter’s view disregarded

K'reisa Cox

Lack of community input on Initiative 27 threatens democracy


Most students at SPU have probably never heard of Initiative 27. Most people would probably assume this is because of voter apathy or other common issues consistently facing American politics.

However, the story could not be more different.

The problem facing this initiative is not the voters, because as of this month the voters have been disqualified from weighing in on the issue.

Initiative 27 is a citizen founded proposal to ban safe injection sites from being established in King County. With over 47,000 signatures by last August, the bill had qualified to be put on the public ballot this February.

However, the democratic process was interrupted on Monday, Oct. 16, when a King County Superior Court justice decided to take the issue off the ballot.

Justice Veronica Alicea-Galván cited a 1992 Washington Supreme Court case involving needle exchange programs as precedent to providing the county with the power to implement unorthodox, controversial drug safety policies.

Never before has a public health issue been denied to public opinion.

Safe injection sites have been a point of contention for many months, as studies produce differing results about their contributions to communities. The sites provide a safe place for addicts, mainly heroin users, to use under medical supervision in case of an overdose.

These sites are certainly effective in reducing deaths by overdose. Insight, the safe injection clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia, reports that it has prevented over 5,000 overdoses within its 13 year history, during which it has had 267,713 visits.

While preventing overdoses is vitally important, it is not the only product safe injection sites bring to surrounding communities.

As policy, sites do not make recovery a focus of their treatment. The Vancouver clinic has only had 262 clients complete drug treatment in the past 13 years, turning what many would deem into a poor .098 percent “success rate.”

King County has been attempting to combat the area’s drug problem, without much progress. Komo 4 News reported that the city of Seattle collected 11,000 needles within the first half of 2017, many of which were found in neighborhood parks.

These statistics stood out to voters, causing them to exercise their constitutional right to implore the government to create policies that are more beneficial to everybody in their view.

Encouraging people struggling with addiction to subside on surviving rather than pushing them to thrive is the wrong approach. However, that is not the only issue at play in the Initiative. The disregard of legislation shows contempt for public opinion as a whole.

In the ruling, justice Alicea-Galván said that “Letting voters decide whether to ban safe-injection sites would infringe on the power of the King County Board of Health.” The assumption that voters are too ignorant to make their own choices sets a dangerous precedent.

Whether or not one agrees with their conclusion, it’s indisputable that this kind of citizens’ demonstration is a clear sign of healthy democracy, which makes this undermining of the democratic process as frightening as it is frustrating.

Basic economic theory states that rational behavior is making decisions that will result in the most benefit to the individual. This principle is a cornerstone of democracy; the right to have one’s voice matter in public policy is a privilege.

Checks and balances are an important aspect of our government; officials cannot make all the decisions, they must consult the voters first.

As citizens, we ought to be proactive about our roles in the system and defend it when it’s not being taken seriously.

This issue affects many groups in different ways, and the best place to work out a compromise is on the legislative floor. It’s now our job to remind our county officials of that truth.