California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a Democrat-authored bill that would have permitted people to use drugs under the supervision of trained staffs in major cities such as Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
In his veto letter Monday, Newsom said he has "long supported the cutting edge of harm reduction strategies." However, he also fears the unlimited-site provision in the bill "could induce a world of unintended consequences."
"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," Newsom's letter continued. "These unintended consequences in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland cannot be taken lightly. Worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take."
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2018.
Newsom's rejection quickly prompted opposition — from his own party.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, who co-authored the legislation, tweeted Monday, "Gov. Newsom vetoed our legislation to authorize SF, Oakland and LA to implement safe consumption sites. The veto is tragic and a huge lost opportunity. These sites are proven to save lives and connect people to treatment. Sad day for CA's fight against overdose deaths."
And in a lengthy statement, Wiener wrote, "By rejecting a proven and extensively studied strategy to save lives and get people into treatment, this veto sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to harm reduction.
"SB 57 is not a radical bill by any stretch of the imagination. It simply gives permission to cities — each of which has requested that permission — to pilot safe-consumption sites to save lives and get people into treatment. The coalition behind SB 57 is massive, including physicians, health experts, frontline health workers, and local elected officials."
Wiener then added, "Other states and cities in the U.S. are already moving forward with this proven health model. New York City, with the vocal support of Mayor Eric Adams, has successfully implemented safe consumption sites. Indeed, Mayor Adams is advocating to expand the sites to operate 24 hours a day, due to their success in reducing public drug use. ... Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] is on the verge of settling with the Biden administration to potentially allow it to open safe consumptions sites consistent with federal law."
As an alternative, Newsom said he has instructed the state's Secretary of Health and Human Services to convene local officials to "discuss minimum standards and best practices" for this program.
Also, Newsom reportedly wants the state legislature to rework the bill language, making it more operationally and fiscally sustainable.
According to the Chronicle, more than 1,600 people have died from drug overdoses in San Francisco since the start of 2020.
At a recent news conference, Wiener rhetorically wondered, "Had this bill been signed into law years ago, as it should have been, how many lives would have been saved? Our local communities are in crisis with people dying of overdoses on the streets, and our local communities are coming to us and asking us for ... permission to save lives."
California Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher crossed party lines to support Newsom's veto.
"I am amazed that it needs to be pointed out that enabling the behavior of drug addicts is a bad thing," Gallagher said in a statement.
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