Newsom vetoes bill allowing supervised drug use in 3 California cities

The governor directed state health officials to work with local authorities to develop a more detailed and less expansive plan.

“I remain open to that discussion when these local officials come back to the Legislative Assembly with recommendations for a really limited pilot program,” Newsom said.

State lawmakers have debated the idea every year since 2016, a recurring fight between progressive lawmakers who say it will save lives and moderate Democrats and Republicans who warn it would normalize hard drug use. Proponents hoped Newsom, who has said in the past that he was receptive to the concept, would back this latest version of a San Francisco state senator seen as a rising star in his own right.

The legislation sought to allow five-year pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, cities where drug use has contributed to a rise in property crime and homelessness that has tested the tolerance of generally liberal Californians.

Newsom, who had been under intense pressure for weeks, kept a grip on his signing the legislation, and the announcement was met with both surprise and anger from people on both sides of the debate. He had until Monday to decide.

Approval of the bill, AC SB57(21R) by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would have represented the nation’s largest experiment with the supervised injection model, where users can have access to clean needles, testing and treatment services. New York City opened the first in the country in November, and other cities have similar plans in the face of the relentless opioid crisis and record number of overdoses.

Wiener called the veto a missed opportunity.

“Today California lost a huge opportunity to solve one of our most deadly problems,” he said. said in a press release. “The dramatic escalation in drug overdose deaths. By rejecting a proven and widely studied strategy to save lives and get people into treatment, this veto sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to risk reduction.

San Francisco, at least, could still open an injection site despite the veto. City Attorney David Chiu said after Newsom’s announcement that a program run by a nonprofit, as is the case in New York, would be welcome. “To save lives, I fully support a nonprofit organization moving forward with New York’s model of overdose prevention programs,” he said.

A veto from the progressive governor, who in 2018 described himself as “very, very open” to supervised injection in concept, fixed
a new path for Newsom, a leader who has taken strong stances on other issues that have violated federal law such as same-sex marriage and cannabis.

California, once on the verge of being at the forefront on this issue, was overtaken by Rhode Island, the first to approve the sites, and New York City, which opened two sites at the end from last year.

The effort to sanction what are often called supervised consumption or overdose prevention centers has been going on for years in California. State Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), when she was in the Assembly, tried three times since 2016 to pass such legislation. A version of the bill, limited to San Francisco, was presented to former Governor Jerry Brown’s office in 2018, but he vetoed it.

Law enforcement groups lobbied against the bill, arguing that it would fuel the opioid epidemic by sanctioning “drug dens” that exacerbate illegal activity and crime near the sites. Opponents have argued that they will not only be ineffective, but will exacerbate drug use and illegal activity in surrounding areas.

Proponents of this approach, however, argue that the sites will help combat the explosion in opioid-related overdose deaths in California and across the country. More than 5,500 Californians have died from opioid-related overdoses since 2020.

More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, according to the most recent estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 71,000 of those deaths involved fentanyl or other synthetic opioids, a 23% increase from the previous year.

Bernard P. Love