California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a state bill that would allow Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco to open legal drug injection sites where opioid users could shoot up under supervision.
The legislation was introduced as fatal overdoses have surged across the state and the country, but Newsom said he feared the facilities could negatively impact such cities.
“The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize — facilities which could exist well into the later part of this decade — could induce a world of unintended consequences,” he wrote in a statement explaining his decision.
Supporters of the bill, however, say safe injection sites have been proven to save lives as trained staff are able to intervene and provide medical care should a user overdose.
“Each year this legislation is delayed, more people die of drug overdoses,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who authored the legislation.
Newsom said he supported harm reduction measures, but argued that the risk of opening up major cities to the sites is too big.
“It is possible that these sites would help improve the safety and health of our urban areas, but if done without a strong plan, they could work against this purpose,” he said. “…Worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take.”
Newsom’s decision-making regarding the bill was scrutinized on a national scale as the Democratic governor is being eyed as a potential presidential candidate, despite his claims of disinterest in running.
In his veto statement, Newsom said he was instructing 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 this discussion when those local officials come back to the Legislature with recommendations for a truly limited pilot program — with comprehensive plans for siting, operations, community partnerships, and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be run safely and effectively,” he said.
Opponents of the bill argued that it would in effect encourage the use of dangerous illegal drugs.
President of the San Francisco Police Officers Association Tracy McCray called the safe injection sites “sanctioned drug dens” and said they would create “misery and chaos for the residents and businesses forced to be next to these sites.”
She along with California Republicans praised the governor for blocking the bill 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 up,” said Senate GOP Leader Scott Wilk, who urged Newsom to veto the bill in a letter penned with fellow Republicans.
Nationwide, drug overdose deaths increased 28.5% to more than 100,000 during the 12-month period ending in April 2021 over the same period a year earlier — including about 10,000 Californians — according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first two publicly recognized legal injection sites in the country opened in New York City in December. Since opening, the sites have been credited with intervening in more than 150 overdoses.
Supporters of the legislation denounced Newsom’s calls for more studies on best practices.
“We don’t need additional studies or working groups to determine whether safe consumption sites are effective,” Wiener said. “These sites are a proven strategy to reduce overdose deaths, pressure on emergency rooms, 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 supplying drug testing kits that check for deadly fentanyl and other contaminants, advocates say.
Republicans and opponents said other measures should be used to combat drug use, not condone it.
“We need to stop enabling criminal acts,” CA Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher said. “Instead, we should promote policies that will empower people to safely get off the streets and reintegrate into our communities.”