A new California bill headed to the governor’s desk would expand taxpayer-funded “safe” drug use sites across the state despite the failure of a pilot site in San Francisco.
California Democrats passed the bill last week, which would allow San Francisco, nearby Oakland, and Los Angeles to set up new supervised drug use sites, which will run for five years through January 2028.
The so-called “safe injection” sites are aimed at reducing overdoses, but critics say they have a poor track record of success.
The bill, Senate Bill 57, passed in the state Senate, with just 21 Democrats and zero Republicans voting for it, but it was enough to send it to Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Newsom has not commented publicly about whether he will sign the bill. However, during his campaign in 2018 Newsom said he was “very very open” to the concept of safe injection sites.
The new sites would allow addicts to inject or smoke their illegal drugs in a sterile environment with clean drug paraphernalia in hopes of reducing the spread of diseases like hepatitis and HIV as well as preventing overdoses from illegal drugs like heroin, meth, and fentanyl.
Selling drugs is supposed to be prohibited at the sites.
Critics say that San Francisco’s experiment with a safe injection site was not successful and that the program should not be expanded to other cities.
San Francisco originally launched its flagship “safe” injection site as the Tenderloin Linkage Center in the Tenderloin District. The neighborhood is known for being flooded with drug dealers and struggling with homelessness and violence.
Mayor London Breed said the neighborhood is in a state of emergency when it comes to drug addiction and started the center in an attempt to curb overdoses and help addicts get treatment, but the numbers have not changed much.
In January, the month the center opened, 48 people overdosed in San Francisco, and that number stayed about the same in the following months. Nearly 50,000 people used the center between January and May, but only 163 people were referred to substance abuse treatment and only 38 were connected to treatment between the end of January and mid-May, according to Kron4.
The city changed the name of the Tenderloin Linkage Center to the Tenderloin Center, and city officials said the center was focusing on providing basic services and reducing fatal overdoses.
The governor is facing pressure from Democrats to sign the bill as it is a longtime wishlist item for the progressive base in California.
“Drug addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue,” Democrat State Sen. Scott Weiner said Wednesday, according to NBC Bay Area.
“The status quo is filling our prisons and our morgues,” said Oakland Democrat Mayor Libby Schaaf, according to the outlet.
Both Democrats claimed the bill will save taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile, Republicans are urging Newsom to veto the legislation.
“This dangerous measure endangers neighborhoods, communities, and businesses,” said Republican state Sen. Brian Jones, according to the Time of Sand Diego. “Allowing people to get higher than a kite on heroin and other dangerous drugs, then turning them loose afterwards onto the streets is just crazy.”