California Gov. Gavin Newsom is opposed to the Legal Drug Injection Sites Act
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday vetoed a state law that would allow Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco to open legal drug injection sites where opioid users could inject under supervision.
The legislation was introduced as fatal drug overdoses were rising statewide and across the country, but Newsom said he worried the facilities could negatively impact such cities.
“The unlimited number of safe injection sites this bill would authorize — facilities that could exist well into the later part of this decade — could have a world of unintended consequences,” he wrote in a statement justifying his decision .
But supporters of the bill say safe injection sites have been proven to save lives because trained staff can step in and provide medical care in the event of a user overdose.
“Every year this law gets delayed, more people die from drug overdoses,” said State Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who wrote the law.
Newsom said he supports mitigation measures but argued the risk of opening up major cities to the sites was too great.
“It’s possible that these sites would help improve the safety and health of our urban areas, but if implemented without a strong plan, they could defeat that purpose,” he said. “… Worsening drug use challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take.”
Newsom’s decision-making on the bill came under scrutiny at the national level because the Democratic governor, despite his claims of disinterest in running for office, is viewed as a potential presidential candidate.
In his veto statement, Newsom said he directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “convene city and county officials to discuss minimum standards and best practices for safe and sustainable overdose prevention programs.”
“I remain open to that discussion if these local officials return to the Legislature with recommendations for a really limited pilot program — with comprehensive plans for site, operations, community partnerships and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be carried out safely and effectively,” he said.
Opponents of the bill argued that it would actually encourage the use of dangerous illegal drugs.
San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tracy McCray called the safe injection sites “sanctioned drug dens” and said they would “create misery and chaos for residents and businesses who are forced to be near these locations.”
She joined California Republicans in commending the governor for blocking the law after it passed the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature earlier this month — without a veto-proof majority.
“People struggling with addiction need help, not a legal place to shoot,” said Senate GOP Chairman Scott Wilk, who urged Newsom to oppose the bill in a letter co-authored with fellow Republicans to veto.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths rose 28.5% in the 12 months to April 2021 compared to the same period last year to more than 100,000 — including about 10,000 Californians.
The country’s first two publicly recognized legal injection sites opened in New York City in December. Since opening, the sites have been credited with intervening in more than 150 drug overdoses.
Supporters of the legislation condemned Newsom’s calls for more studies of best practice.
“We don’t need additional studies or working groups to determine whether safe places of consumption are effective,” Wiener said. “These websites are a proven strategy for reducing overdose deaths, emergency room pressure and public drug use, while expanding access to drug treatment.”
The safe injection sites also help prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infections by providing users with clean needles and stop overdoses by providing drug testing kits that check for deadly fentanyl and other contaminants, advocates say.
Republicans and opponents said other measures should be taken to tackle drug use, rather than condoning it.
“We have to stop enabling criminal activity,” said James Gallagher, chairman of the CA Republican Convention. “Instead, we should promote policies that allow people to get off the streets safely and reintegrate into our communities.”
With mail wires