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Drug Nuisances

This page provides information on drug nuisances for local governments in Washington State, including state statutes, examples of local ordinances, and related resources.

It is part of MRSC's series on Nuisances: Regulation and Abatement.

Statutes and Regulations

Injunctions – Legal Process to Close Buildings Used for Illegal Drug Activity

Drugs, from a personal or criminal law perspective, are frequently more than a nuisance: the abuse of illegal drugs can destroy lives and families. In the neighborhood context, however, illegal drug use can have many of the same impacts as other nuisances. Housing values can be lessened and the quality of life in the area can go downhill, particularly for those who want to live in a peaceful environment that is safe for children.

The state legislature adopted drug nuisance laws, Chapter 7.43 RCW, in 1988. These laws provide cities and counties with tools to combat illegal drug activity by authorizing civil actions in superior court to close buildings or units in buildings that are being used in connection with the sale of illegal drugs. The statutes provide that the court must, upon finding that a drug nuisance exists, order that the building or unit within the building be closed for a period of one year (RCW 7.43.080 and RCW 7.43.090). A drug nuisance is defined by RCW 7.43.010 as follows:

(1) Every building or unit within a building used for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, delivering, selling, storing, or giving away any controlled substance as defined in chapter 69.50 RCW, legend drug as defined in chapter 69.41 RCW, or imitation controlled substances as defined in chapter 69.52 RCW, and every building or unit within a building wherein or upon which such acts take place, is a nuisance which shall be enjoined, abated, and prevented, whether it is a public or private nuisance.

(2) As used in this chapter, "building" includes, but is not limited to, any structure or any separate part or portion thereof, whether permanent or not, or the ground itself.

Any property where a drug nuisance exists may be subject to abatement under Chapter 7.43 RCW, including apartment buildings, motels, hotels, taverns, stores, and private residences. If a pervasive drug nuisance problem is demonstrated, the courts do not hesitate to utilize the full force of the statute. However, if the level of drug related criminal activity is not "overwhelming," or if the evidence shows that the building owner has been taking reasonable efforts to deal with the problems, the courts can allow a building or apartment to remain occupied. This is especially true in situations involving apartment complexes where innocent tenants may be displaced during a closure, and in situations involving hotels or motels operated by businessmen and women as their sole source of income.

In order to expedite the abatement of drug-related building nuisances, the legislature gave these civil actions priority over most other civil proceedings (RCW 7.43.050). The threat of speedy abatement has made it relatively easy for city enforcement officials to get the attention and cooperation of apartment building owners. Because Chapter 7.43 RCW provides full authority to file drug nuisance enforcement actions in superior court, cities and counties do not need to pass any local ordinances before using the state statutory authority to commence an enforcement action.

Drug Possession and Drug Use Laws

State law largely preempts local drug possession and drug use laws. For more information, see our blog post New Law on Drug Possession, Use Takes Effect July 1, 2023.

Examples of Drug Ordinances and Codes

Examples of Programs

Drug Task Force Programs

Crime Free Programs - Drugs in Housing

Programs to Curtail Drug Labs and Lab Cleanups

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: June 28, 2023