California Gov. Gavin Newsom says no to his left flank, which doesn’t happen every day in this one-party state. Today, Newsom vetoed a bill that would have created an unlimited number of safe injection site pilot programs statewide.
Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed pilot programs that would have allowed people to use drugs under the supervision of trained staff in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, a blow to a long-fought battle to deal with the cities’ overdose crises.
In his veto letter, Newsom said he had “long supported the latest harm reduction strategies,” but said the unlimited number of sites the law allows “could create a world of unintended consequences.” He did not go into detail about the consequences that could have.
“It is 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,” Newsom’s letter said. “These unintended consequences in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland are not to be taken lightly. Worsening drug use challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take.”
It’s probably safe to assume that the “unintended consequences” Newsom is most concerned about are those that could hurt his presidential bid in a few years’ time. Newsom has made it pretty clear that he’s trying to position himself as a progressive opponent of Gov. DeSantis and Abbott in Florida and Texas, respectively. I find it hard to believe the sales pitch is working, but he’s definitely interested in running. And while “safe injection sites” is an easy call in deep blue California, the idea would be a non-starter in many states. As history shows, these sites are still illegal under federal law.
The latest veto is a setback for many local officials and supporters who have pushed for years to open these sites to curb overdose deaths but have hesitated because federal law still bans them. If the governor had signed the law into law, it would have allowed those cities to allow organizations to operate the sites, but that didn’t mean San Francisco opened one right away.
To be honest, I’m not sure San Francisco would open any of these sites now, even if the law were signed. The city recalled bright-eyed school board members and the country’s most forward-thinking prosecutor. London Mayor Breed and Deputy Public Prosecutor Brooke Jenkins have vowed to put an end to open-air drug markets, including a “Liaison Center” that had become an open-air drug market and injection site for hundreds of people. As such, now is probably not the time to push for safe injection sites in San Francisco.
That’s not to say other cities haven’t tried. The budgets spent on things like homeless services in these cities are huge. All of this spending is creating an army of activists whose job it is to push for more service.
Laura Guzman, a senior director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, said supporters would be “angry” if the law were defeated. She saw a veto as a “political failure” to save lives, especially of people of color: In San Francisco, a disproportionately large number of blacks died in 2020 from an overdose of the opioid fentanyl.
New York City opened “overdose prevention centers” last year under outgoing Mayor de Blasio. Earlier this month, current Mayor Adams added machines to these OPC sites that check the contents of drugs brought to the site by addicts.
Trained technicians will use a Bruker Alpha Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer to identify the presence and approximate amounts of a wide range of substances, including fentanyl, in drug samples submitted by program participants. All individuals utilizing this DOHMH drug review initiative will receive tailored harm reduction counseling, including access to naloxone and overdose prevention training.
In case you were wondering, this machine looks like a Keurig for heroin addicts. I don’t know what these cost, but it’s enough that you have to request a quote to buy one.
Here is a news report emphasizing that it is about Newsom’s future political prospects.