Newsom’s Comments on Reconsidering Drug Injection Sites Draw Criticism

October 25, 2018 Updated: November 1, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO—California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom’s comments about being “very, very open” to a pilot safe injection site (SIS) for illegal drugs in San Francisco has drawn sharp criticism from local community members who oppose such an idea.

“We condemn Newsom for making such a promise hastily and are very concerned about his candidacy for Governor!” says a joint press release issued on Oct. 19 by five organizations: California Coalition against Drugs, California for Liberty, International Faith Based Coalition, Organization for Justice and Equality, and Take Back America.

On Sept. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed AB 186, the legislation that would have given the city of San Francisco legal status to operate an SIS.

Brown offered his reasons for vetoing AB 186: “I repeat, enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work.I conclude that the disadvantages of this bill far outweigh the possible benefits.”

According to a report by San Francisco Chronicle, Newsom on several occasions during his visit early this month to San Francisco, commented that he was open to the idea of a pilot SIS. Newsom also mentioned that he’d already had multiple discussions with San Francisco Mayor London Breed about the idea.

AB 186 was initiated by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman on Jan. 19, 2017; Breed has been one of the biggest proponents of the pilot program of an SIS in San Francisco.

Before Brown vetoed AB 186, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein published an opinion piece in The New York Times, stating, “Cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action.”

Frank Lee, president of Organization for Justice and Equality, a San Francisco Bay Area-based organization, said: “How could Newsom ignore Governor Brown’s strong statement, DOJ’s explicit warning, and all the key facts, and hastily promise to consider signing a bill for [an] illegal drug injection center? This is unacceptable and irresponsible!”

The practice of providing government-operated SIS’s has been controversial not just in the United States, but also in Canada.

Toronto started providing SIS services in 2017. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 1,265 Ontarians died of apparent opioid-related causes in 2017, with Toronto accounting for 303 of them; that represents a 63 percent increase from 2016. In the first three months of 2018, there were 317 such deaths in the province, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported.

Newsom’s comments on reconsidering an SIS came within five weeks of the 2018 midterm elections.

“How could Newsom hurriedly promise to consider signing a bill for illegal drug injection centers?! How can we have confidence in such a candidate for governor?” the press release reads.

In California, AB 186 was met with strong resistance early on. A coalition of eight law-enforcement officers’ organizations sent a letter opposing the bill to Susan Talamantes Eggman, a member of the California State Assembly.

“Rather than a robust effort to get addicts into treatment, AB 186 alarmingly concedes the inevitable and immutable nature of drug addiction and abuse. … AB 186 has the unintended consequence of enabling continued and unabated addiction, resulting in public health, public safety and quality of life damage to the most vulnerable communities in California,” according to the letter, which was dated July 2, 2017.

The eight organizations involved were the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs; the Association of Deputy District Attorneys; the Los Angeles County Probation Officers Union AFSCME Local 685; the Los Angeles Police Protective League; the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers; the California College and University Police Chiefs Association; the California Narcotic Officers Association; and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association.