The ‘most hippie’ town in Washington defies state, outlaws drugs over jump in overdose deaths

Once voted the “most hippie town” in the state of Washington, a more than 800 percent increase in overdose deaths has led one city council to start a new kind of counterculture against the state’s drug laws.

A progressive haven is learning the hard way that lawlessness isn’t the path to prosperity, especially in the midst of a serious drug crisis. After previously failing to make public drug use an arrestable offense, the Bellingham, Washington city council persisted in April and took an about-face from their liberal reputation.

“A man was sitting on the curb in a parking lot with his head bowed, right out in the open … and a police officer told me that he had been dead for at least 12 hours,” council member Edwin Williams told the New York Post. “It shocked me to my core.”

With the town’s population of 92,000, Cascadia Daily reported that from January to April 12 there had been 223 responses to overdoses amounting to roughly 2.5 per day. Included among those calls was the tragic death of a five-year-old who had received a fatal dose of fentanyl in March.

“I have lived here for 30 years, and no, I haven’t seen anything like this. I would characterize our city as one that is trying and willing to bend over backwards to help and provide people with programs to address either addiction or homelessness,” William continued. “But at this point — the combination of COVID, the pervasiveness of fentanyl and the state law being changed — pushed everything to the limit.”

“It was just the perfect storm and at some point, something had to be done,” he said.

In 2018, the site OnlyInYourState had voted Bellingham “the most hippie town in Washington.” That same year, according to the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office, there had been 11 overdose deaths. With fentanyl pouring over the border, that number climbed to 50 in 2021 and then spiked to 89 in 2022.

Even faced with that reality, the council had not succeeded in its first attempt to make public drug use a crime. Drugs had been decriminalized in Washington after the legislature followed up on a 2021 state Supreme Court decision that struck down a law that made possession a felony. Now that Pandora’s box has been opened, lawmakers are having difficulty gaining support to criminalize drug use as a bill failed to pass that state Senate.

“I would consider myself a progressive person, but there just are a lot of laws and things that I don’t think work properly,” Steve Satushek told the Post. Their son Mick was found dead on April 5 at the town’s aquatic center after struggling for years with schizophrenia and suspected drug abuse.

“I walk around downtown and it’s just awful. I went with my son to some of these homeless camps, and they’re just horrid, filthy places. I feel real strongly that we need to go back to what the New York mayor [Eric Adams] and [California] Gov. Gavin Newsom have said, which is to involuntarily commit people who need that help,” he expressed.

Meanwhile, the state law that makes drug possession a misdemeanor only on the third arrest is set to expire on July 1 and even Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has voiced his support for stricter laws. “We cannot accept decriminalization in the middle of a fentanyl crisis,” he was on record stating.


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Kevin Haggerty


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