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Drugs, the law, and Seattle: Today So Far

caption: U.S. District Judge James Robart praised changes by the Seattle Police Department under federal oversight since 2012. His upcoming decision will clarify if and when he will release SPD from that oversight.
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U.S. District Judge James Robart praised changes by the Seattle Police Department under federal oversight since 2012. His upcoming decision will clarify if and when he will release SPD from that oversight.
  • The Seattle City Council voted against a new drug possession law, but does that means drugs are legal in the city?
  • "Follow your passions" — really?

This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for June 7, 2023.

Seattle will not enforce Washington state's new drug law, but that doesn't mean drugs are legal in the city. This is one of those nuanced news stories ... that folks are likely to mutate into hot takes (way beyond my nearly lukewarm takes for which you come to TSF).

The proposal that was in front of the Seattle City Council yesterday would have allowed the city's own courts and attorney to handle drug possession laws locally. City Attorney Ann Davison promoted this bill. Like the state's new law, the local bill favored diversion programs and treatment before jail time. But some council members questioned if Seattle even has the needed level of treatment services to begin with. Other critics argued that the measure criminalized the poor. The bill failed 5-4.

This is one of those news stories that someone, somewhere is going to stretch into a headline that states: "Drugs are legal all over Seattle!" That is not true. This was about who prosecutes these drug crimes. Public drug possession is still illegal in Seattle. While it's not on the books in Seattle, Washington's state law is still in effect. Seattle police can still arrest people for drug possession. The cases will be handled by King County's legal system, instead of by the city. So this vote really came down to pointing defendants toward a Seattle attorney or a county attorney. The Council has gone with the county option.

When you break down the rhetoric around this bill, one side had folks arguing that, "Seattle needs the law to get folks into diversion and treatment programs," and on the other side you had folks saying, "No, instead, we need to get folks into diversion and treatment programs." The subtext among both arguments is that they don't really trust the other side to get it done.

“We need to show our neighbors that we will focus on real solutions like diversion, treatment, and housing. That's how we create safety for Seattle,” Councilmember Tammy Morales said before voting.

RELATED: Community court is ending in Seattle. What does that mean for defendants?

We also heard folks throwing around the term "war on drugs" as a criticism to the now-failed bill. It's an argument that Davison dismissed while talking with KUOW Tuesday, before the council voted.

"This is not a return to war on drugs," she said. "It is about how do we get individuals into treatment and how do we make our public spaces safer ... As you go down our sidewalks and on our buses and in our parks, you can see what we've been doing hasn't been working."

Read the full story on the vote here.

One other thing that I'd like to hear some of your thoughts on. It's another head scratcher that Bill Radke has put out there that has had me squirming. From grade school through college, students often hear the advice to "follow your passions.” You have probably also heard something along the lines of "do what you love, then you'll always love what you do" (which, apparently, is also a quote attributed to Billy Joel). Either way, I have never liked these cliches. I think they're bad advice.

They're nice things to say and they make a nice meme, but memes and cliches fail to capture certain realities that people face. The subtext of following your passions is that it's possible to do that and that it's easy, and that you'll live a comfortable, cushy life. But just ask many artists, athletes, podcasters, or writers how "cushy" they feel sometimes. Perhaps explaining that there are other things you may care about in life, too, and that it takes more than just being passionate. It also takes hard work. And it takes a certain understanding.

For University of Washington psychology professor Sapna Cheryan, there is something else to consider. She says this sort of advice also tends to perpetuate some gender gaps in our job market. She notes that folks will list career goals differently, depending on whether they are asked if they should aim for their passions, or aim for security, income, etc. Folks seem to know the difference. Cheryan argues that students should get a different message when asked to decide their future ambitions.

“Try different things before you decide,” Cheryan told Radke. “Maybe if I had an ad agency, I could write a catchier phrase.”

I like that advice. I also have my own catchphrase: "Work to live, or live to work." You still follow your passion, but you have to choose the route best for you. Many folks come to an understanding that following your passions and following a secure career do not always pay out in the same way. If you live to work, you're following your passions with the understanding that you may or may not afford to live in Seattle. If you work to live, then you're checking the required boxes to establish some security, but also understanding that feeling entirely fulfilled in life won't come from your job — your job is a means of supporting your passion. Sure, it's possible to marry the two. I've known artists who are successful full-time artists, drone video enthusiasts who ended up working in Hollywood, and hey, Michelle Yeoh is in just about every awesome movie and TV show these days. I think it's safe to say they're following their passions.

Everybody is different. I've also known people who are passionate about living in a trailer on a drop zone, so they take gig jobs to ensure they can skydive at a moment's notice. I've also known folks who suffer through middle-management meetings because they are passionate about raising and supporting their kids. Some folks just want to put some good in the world, so they work a basic job and volunteer at a charity. It's OK to make that deal with yourself.

This whole conversation all stems for Radke's latest foray into the phrases we commonly use, and dissecting what is behind them. You can find that full conversation here. But I'm curious about what TSF readers think about all this. What advice do you give young students? What do you say to people planning their future ambitions? Do you think my approach is terrible? Let me know at, and I might round up this advice in a future newsletter.


caption: Bellevue's Rebecca Wu holds her winning illustration for the national Doodle for Google competition, along with her two sisters.
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Bellevue's Rebecca Wu holds her winning illustration for the national Doodle for Google competition, along with her two sisters.
Courtesy of C+C

Bellevue's Rebecca Wu holds her winning illustration for the national Doodle for Google competition, along with her two sisters. Rebecca's drawing rose above tens of thousands of participants. Her doodle went live on Google's homepage this week. (Courtesy of C+C)


The first week of June should be considered good luck for Seattle music, given a few historical moments.

The Seattle Symphony performed its first full opera on June 7, 1962. It was Verdi's "Aida" and coincided with the city's first World's Fair.

On June 5, 1988, Nirvana played at the Central Tavern, a hotspot for the region's music scene in Seattle's Pioneer Square. In the audience that night were some folks from Sub Pop Records, which the band eventually signed with.

June 7 also happens to be Prince's birthday. That's not a Seattle factoid, but something for us all to be grateful for and honor. So go out there and act your age, not your shoe size. Don't cause any sorrow. Don't cause any pain. And laugh in the purple rain as we get through this thing called life! Happy Prince Day!


caption: Wildfire smoke drifts through Snoqualmie Pass in 2017.
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Wildfire smoke drifts through Snoqualmie Pass in 2017.

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