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Newsom vetoes plan to open safe injection sites in San Francisco, Oakland

Controversial safe-injection site bill awaits decision from Gov. Newsom
Controversial safe-injection site bill awaits decision from Gov. Newsom 03:03

SAN FRANCISCO – Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday vetoed a measure from a Bay Area lawmaker that would have allowed the opening of safe injection sites, where opioid users can legally inject drugs in supervised settings.

Newsom rejected Senate Bill 57, introduced by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), a measure that would have established a pilot program for the sites in San Francisco and Oakland, along with Los Angeles.

"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. 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," the governor said in a statement explaining his veto.

Newsom said he was instructing the state's Secretary of Health and Human Services to convene local officials to discuss standards and best practices for "safe and sustainable overdose prevention programs."

"I remain open to this discussion when those local officials come back to the Legislature with recommendations 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," the governor said.

Wiener expressed his disappointment by the governor's decision.

"Today's veto is tragic. For eight years, a broad coalition has worked to pass this life-saving legislation. Each year this legislation is delayed, more people die of drug overdoses — two per day in San Francisco alone," Wiener said.

The senator went on to say that sites have been proven effective in other parts of the country and abroad.

"Safe consumption sites have been in operation around the world for approximately 30 years, with great success and literally zero overdose deaths. These sites are a proven strategy to reduce overdose deaths, pressure on emergency rooms, and public drug use, while expanding access to drug treatment," Wiener said.

The senator had previously said the sites are needed as California and the nation are facing what he described as a "dramatic and preventable" increase in fatal overdoses. In San Francisco, 711 people died from overdoses in 2020, followed by another 640 deaths in 2021.  

Critics of the injection sites, including law enforcement groups and Republicans in the legislature, praised the governor's veto.

"These locations would have allowed sanctioned drug dens and attracted more drug dealers to these neighborhoods creating misery and chaos for the residents and businesses forced to be next to these sites," said a statement from the San Francisco Police Officers' Association. "The focus and resources for addressing our drug epidemic should be on enforcement against drug pushers and expanded treatment for those suffering from addiction."

State Sen. minority leader Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) said, "People struggling with addiction need help, not a legal place to shoot up. I look forward to working with the governor to convince Democrats in the legislature that a compassionate approach to addition is better done through medical and mental health treatments."

A similar measure authorizing the injection sites had passed the legislature in 2018, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown.

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