DOJ, San Francisco May Soon Square Off Over Public Drug-Injection Sites

September 3, 2018 Updated: September 3, 2018

The federal government and the city of San Francisco appear to be on a collision course over the operation of public facilities for the purpose of injecting illegal drugs, known as safe injection sites (SIS).

Mayor London Breed toured a mockup of an SIS—no injecting is taking place yet—at its grand opening on Aug. 29. The site, called Safe Inside, is located in the Glide Memorial Church in the city’s Tenderloin District. It remained open through Aug. 31 for the public to tour.

The facility will become operational if California Gov. Jerry Brown signs AB186. Passed by the state legislature on Aug. 29, the measure was written to authorize San Francisco to operate an SIS.

Given the views expressed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a New York Times opinion piece on Aug. 27, “Fight Drug Abuse, Don’t Subsidize It,” an operational SIS will bring opposition from the Department of Justice.

In his article, Rosenstein called SIS a “taxpayer-sponsored haven to shoot up,” and said, “cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action.”

Rosenstein said that almost 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, a 54 percent increase since 2012. Injection sites, he wrote, are very dangerous and would only make the opioid crisis worse.

AB186, which is called “Controlled Substances: Overdose Prevention Program,” provides a long list of requirements for the city to meet to operate an SIS.

An SIS is required to be supervised by health care professionals; it must provide sterile consumption supplies and collect used needles; it must provide treatment to prevent fatal overdoses; and it must educate participants on the risks of contracting HIV and viral hepatitis.

Rosenstein said that “safe injection site” is a name used “euphemistically.” He said that drug addicts often had no idea what they bought from illegal drug dealers, and illicit fentanyl or one of its analogues can be up to 5,000 times more powerful than heroin.

One of the required conditions listed by AB186 for the operation of an SIS is to establish a good neighbor policy to address any neighborhood concerns and complaints.

Rosenstein cast doubt on whether an SIS could be a good neighbor. He quoted David Carson, a city council member in Redmond, Washington, who described his personal observations of a neighborhood near an SIS in Vancouver, Canada, as being just like a “war zone.”

Carson wrote about his observations after driving to Vancouver to observe the only operational SIS in North America. The situation, he wrote, was worse than what he had imagined.

“Once the decision to allow open use of drugs has been made, the open selling of drugs will follow,” Carson concluded.

Local activist groups against SIS have expressed disappointment that the DOJ’s Northern District of California isn’t doing enough to stop the SIS, or the legalization of marijuana in California.

Some of the local groups have been sending letters directly to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging he take action against SISs.

The Epoch Times received a copy of a letter to Sessions written by Organization for Justice and Equality (OJE). The letter asked, “please do not affirm the appointment of any local DOJ director if he/she refuses to enforce this momentous federal law [against SIS].”

On Aug. 16, President Donald Trump picked David Anderson as the candidate for District Attorney of Northern District of California. In a telephone interview with The Epoch Times, Frank Lee, the president of OJE, welcomed the news and expressed his high hopes for DOJ under the new leadership, even as Anderson’s nomination is awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

AB186 grew out of a San Francisco Board of Supervisors resolution on Apr. 11, 2017, which charged the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) with convening a Safe Injection Services Task Force, whose goal was to develop recommendations on the operation of SIS.

AB186 is intended to provide city employees with protection from legal liability in SIS operations. Rosenstein says that SIS operations are illegal, and violations would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

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