Safe Injection Sites Bill Relaunched

Last year a bill for the controversial safe spaces died on Governor Brown’s desk. Now it's been brought back — and if it clears the Assembly and Senate, will land in the hands of our new governor.

Mayor London Breed picks up a user kit during a tour of a safe injection site simulation at Glide Memorial Church on Aug. 29, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume)

Last year’s radical safe injection site bill AB 186 got much farther than some anticipated; it cleared both the Senate and the Assembly before landing on then-Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. The Democratic governor sat on it for weeks, until — mere hours before the deadline to make a decision — he announced that he would veto the plan. Catering to decades of stigma and the ongoing war on drugs, he sided with police and dismissed health professionals’ medical studies proving that this could be a life-saving solution for San Francisco’s 22,000 intravenous drug users.

“The supporters of this bill believe these ‘injection centers’ will have positive impacts, including reducing the deaths, disease, and infections resulting from drug use,” Brown said last September. “Other authorities — including law enforcement, drug court judges and some who provide rehabilitative treatment — strongly disagree that the ‘harm reduction’ approach envisioned by AB 186 is beneficial. After great reflection, I conclude the disadvantages of this bill far outweigh the possible benefits.”

But the battle is far from over; on Monday, state Senator Scott Wiener announced the introduction of AB 362, a new safe injection bill he co-authored with Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton). The bill would launch a three-year pilot program of such sites in San Francisco. And this time, if it clears the Assembly and Senate it’ll land on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. What he decides to do with it is anyone’s guess; but it’s possible that his old ties to San Francisco could sway him in its favor. The Board of Supervisors has long supported the bill, and Mayor London Breed has been vocal about the need for such facilities in her city. We even had a mock safe injection site set up at Glide for several weeks.

“If we are going to stop the drug use we see in public every day and get the needles off our streets, we need proven public health solutions,” Breed said after Brown vetoed the bill. “We have seen these sites work in cities in other countries, and we know they not only save lives, but they can save our city money by reducing costs for health care and emergency services. Despite this veto, we will still continue to work with our community partners on trying to come up with a solution to move this effort forward.”

But, after last year’s failure, the issue appears to have fallen slightly to the wayside; safe injection sites were a hot campaign issue for Breed when she was running for office, but didn’t even get a mention during her State of the City address last month.

Nevertheless, the new bill is already in motion.

“The status quo isn’t working. People are injecting drugs whether or not we intervene,” Wiener said this week. “They’re injecting on our sidewalks and parks, in transit stations and alleyways, and on people’s front steps. San Francisco has a long history of pushing the envelope on progressive public health solutions, including medical cannabis and needle exchange, before either was legal or broadly embraced. With AB 362 San Francisco, once again, can lead the way on progressive change for our community and for all of California.”

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