Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill Monday that would have legalized safe consumption sites for illegal narcotics, arguing that the bill would not foster a safe and sustainable overdose prevention effort.
Senate Bill 57, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would have authorized a supervised consumption site pilot program in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to determine whether such clinics could reduce overdose deaths statewide.
Newsom said in a statement on his veto of the bill that he is “acutely concerned” about how safe injection sites would operate under the pilot project and suggested that the bill lacked a concrete plan about how many locations could be opened in the three cities.
“The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize – facilities which could exist well into the later part of this decade – could induce a world of unintended consequences,” Newsom said. “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 said he instructed state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly to discuss other potential overdose prevention programs with local officials.
He suggested he would then reconsider the legalization of supervised drug use sites if those local officials brought recommendations before the state legislature for “a truly limited pilot program – with comprehensive plans for siting, operations, community partnerships, and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be run safely and effectively.”
Similar programs have proven successful at reducing and preventing overdose deaths in other countries, including Australia, Canada and parts of Europe.
In November 2021, New York became the first American city to open supervised drug use sites, opening two in Manhattan. Rhode Island and the city of Philadelphia have also sought to open supervised injection sites, but have yet to do so.
According to New York City officials, more than 100 overdoses had been prevented within the first two months of the city’s two clinics opening.
In San Francisco alone, 711 people fatally overdosed in 2020 and 640 in 2021. Similar or higher overdose totals are expected this year as well, according to city officials.
Wiener called Newsom’s veto “tragic” and “a huge lost opportunity,” pointing to the success similar programs have had in other parts of the world as evidence that safe drug use sites can also work to curb overdoses in California.
“We don’t need additional studies or working groups to determine whether safe consumption sites are effective,” Wiener said in a statement. “We know from decades of experience and numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies that they work.”
Wiener said earlier this month at a news conference on that a massive coalition of advocates have been fighting for these sites long before he was an elected official. The bill was initially introduced almost seven years ago by Susan Talamantes Eggman, who tried three times to pass supervised drug consumption legislation in 2016.
“Had we passed this bill and had it been signed into law years ago, as it should have been, how many lives would have been saved? How many people who died on the streets on San Francisco, Oakland and LA would be alive today?” Wiener said during the Aug. 10 news conference.
Assemblyman Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors until May and has since signed on as a co-author of SB 57, said in a statement Monday that Newsom’s veto is a “brutal setback” for efforts to reduce overdoses.
“California is suffering under the fentanyl and opioid crisis,” Haney said. “Last year in my district 641 people accidentally overdosed — many of them dying alone on the streets. That’s an average of 53 San Franciscans dying every month… and all of these deaths were avoidable.”
The bill had been opposed by Republicans and some Democrats in the state legislature, who argued that it would have compounded the state’s struggles with opioid addiction and led to increased overdose deaths and drug-related crime.
“We need to stop enabling criminal acts,” Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said in a statement on the veto. “Instead, we should promote policies that will empower people to safely get off the streets and reintegrate into our communities.”
State law enforcement and anti-drug groups also opposed the bill, framing it as destined to produce poor results.
In a joint statement, organizations including the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, California University and College Police Chiefs Association and the California Coalition Against Drugs argued that taking steps to stop the war on drugs would be “illogical and unscrupulous.”
“We thank the governor for his wise decision,” CNOA legislative counsel John Lovell said. “We also thank everybody who has contributed in this fight. Moreover, we vow to continue our efforts in protecting Californians from the harms of drugs which have long been hurting us.”
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie, speaking on behalf of the CDAA, said in a news conference earlier this month that the bill would have the government “aiding and abetting that drug usage.”
Schubert said that California has a responsibility to look out for the safety of children who might encounter more open drug use as a result of the passage of SB 57.
“Is this really in the best interest of the citizens of our state, our businesses and, perhaps most importantly, our children?” Schubert said.
Wiener said Monday that the veto will inevitably lead to more overdoses and overdose deaths but stressed that he will continue working to establish safe consumption sites as part of the state’s effort to combat opioid addiction.
“While this veto is a major setback for the effort to save lives and connect people to treatment, we must not — and will not — let it end this movement,” he said. “We’ll continue to fight for an end to the War on Drugs and a focus on drug use and addiction as the health issues that they are.”