Drug War

Attempts to Build a Safe Injection Site for San Francisco Drug Users Pushed to 2020

Lawmakers struggle to pass a bill protecting operators from arrest and prosecution.


A new effort by California lawmakers to permit a safe injection facility to be built in San Francisco has been put on hold until next year apparently due to struggles getting it through the State Senate.

Safe injection facilities (SIFs) are centers where drug users who have nowhere else to go (often very poor or homeless) can safely use without fear of arrest under the monitoring of caregivers who can prevent or respond to overdoses. There have been successes in other countries using these sites to save lives and reduce the harms of overdoses and threats of disease transmission, but none openly operate in the United States (there is, however, a secret one), thanks to our punitive drug war, which threatens operators with arrest and prosecution.

San Francisco leaders would like to build SIFs in the city to help deal with the significant problem they have of homeless people injecting drugs in public. To reduce the risk that site operators would be prosecuted, last year state lawmakers crafted a bill that would guarantee that people running a permitted SIF in San Francisco wouldn't be arrested by local or state police. That bill passed through both the state's Assembly and Senate, but when it got to Gov. Jerry Brown, he vetoed it. In his veto letter, he argued that the state needed to have the power to coercively force mandatory treatment on people addicted to drugs.

Brown is no longer governor and new Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he's open to the idea of allowing a SIF in San Francisco. So a new version of the bill was drafted, A.B. 362, and was reintroduced in February. The bill, similar to the previous version, would allow San Francisco to build injection sites without fear of civil liability and criminal sanctions from the state, so long as the program is actually authorized by local government.

The bill passed the Assembly in late May, 44–26, but now, surprisingly it's stuck in the Senate. It's been sent to three separate committees for evaluation, and on Wednesday the bill's authors canceled a hearing in the Senate. SF Weekly reported that due to concerns that they don't have the votes in the Senate (it passed by just four votes in the Senate last year), they're going to push the bill to 2020 in the hopes of building alliances.

San Franciscans are largely supportive of launching the first safe consumption site in California. In January, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Dignity Health conducted a poll on San Francisco voters, which uncovered that 77 percent believe overdose prevention programs are a solution to many of the health crises seen on our streets. One of the largest local supporters of the facilities is the San Francisco AIDS Foundation — which operates several needle exchange sites throughout the city. On Thursday its staff expressed "deep disappointment" in the postponement of the bill, and launched a petition to encourage Sacramento to move it forward faster.

If the bill eventually passes, unfortunately the city will still have the federal government and Department of Justice to deal with. A U.S. attorney in Philadelphia is taking the city to court to try to get a federal judge to rule that a SIF they're proposing there would violate federal "crackhouse" statutes.

It seemed as though there might have been some possible interest in federal lawmakers in some reforms here. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.) had introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have stopped the Department of Justice from spending money trying to fight states and cities from establishing SIFs. Seattle is also attempting to build SIFs there. But Jayapal has since withdrawn her amendment and her office did not respond to request for comment about the amendment.

For more, watch this Reason mini-doc on the efforts to build a SIF in Philadelphia:

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  1. Who the fuck cares?

    1. Anybody care what this guy thinks?

      1. Far more than you, melvin

        1. Far more than you, Nardz

  2. I bet it isn’t built anywhere near any of their houses.

    1. Seattle is looking at a mobile solution, which, if you’re going to have a SIF, it’s not a bad idea.

      1. Seattle is looking at a mobile solution, which, if you’re going to have a SIF, it’s not a bad idea.

        Wouldn’t this be every homeless camp in Seattle? Just have the Lady of the Lake, clad in shimmering samite, lob a clean syringe at someone and they can deem the nearest camp an SIF.

        Also, why do I suspect that nothing blocks traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, like a “mobile” SIF?

        1. Yeah, but then the mobile SIF could at least get to where the drug users are. That was one of the realities of Vancouver’s InSite. Chronic drug users sometimes can’t (or really won’t) take a network of buses across town to get to the SIF. Sometimes they won’t even cover a few blocks.

          1. Why does anyone care? And the Hell is government involved in this?

      2. Apparently, I should read the whole article, all the linked articles, all the comments and all the linked comments first.

        My bad.

  3. Because we want these people to live for years, camping on the streets and breaking into cars for drug money. They must be kept safe.

    1. And living as scofflaw tenants that e nigh impossible to evict, as they reck up the place.

  4. but none openly operate in the United States (there is, however, a secret one),

    Actually, Scott, there are “dozens and dozens” that operate in the US.

  5. 77 percent believe overdose prevention programs are a solution to many of the health crises seen on our streets.

    They’re not. At best, they’re a temporary stop gap measure to deal with bodies piling up from a plethora of other health problems that the politicians asking for SIFFs are either ignoring or outright creating.

    But Jayapal has since withdrawn her amendment and her office did not respond to request for comment about the amendment.

    I can’t say why she withdrew her amendment, but I wonder if it might have something to do with the fact that 7 of 9 members of the Seattle City council has been tossed from office due to their criminally incompetent management of the homeless drug crisis.

  6. Rest assured that the safe injection facility will be approved before any new housing is.

    1. Priorities man, priorities.

  7. Lemme get this straight – defending the border is not a illegitimate government function, but providing safe houses for junkies to shoot up in is?

    Yeah, I think I have a clue as to why libertarianism never quite caught on. Heyoo!

    1. The government is not providing anything.

      It is a privately funded non profit.

      1. Who, no doubt, will be able to handle the “unintended consequences” of their idea.

        1. Consequences are unknown.

          It is an experiment.

          I am in favor of allowing the centers to operate in the open and legally. They should also run on private funding.

          On the condition that they collect data and publish that
          in reviewed journals.

          Then we will know.


      2. I wonder if that non profit is receiving any govt. grants.

        1. Government grants.

          Are you against those?

          I had a few small summer grants back in college. Working in the labs on campus. Learned how to make DNA preps. Long time ago and can hardly remember now.

          As suggested the facilities grants or not are an experiment. They should produce data. That seems like Reason. If it is more harm than good cancel the program.

          1. I’m against a lot of govt. grants. And definitely against using public funds for this, even indirectly.

  8. Libertarians being for this is fucking bizarre.

    1. I wouldn’t call it bizarre, but I would say it’s a bit narrowly focused and somewhat built on utopianism.

      There are some rational reasons a libertarian would be for this stemming from:
      1. The drug war is a failure. This attempts to deal with a side-effect of drugs in a rational, legal way. True.
      2. Given the failure of the war on drugs, at least we can prevent overdose deaths with said rational approach in #1: Mostly true
      3. This will prevent public health harm from the clandestine use of drugs in an unsafe environment: Kind of true in a limited fashion. Partially true.

      1. Why does the government have to prevent overdose? Overdosing is a personal consequence of bad decisions.

        Injection sites and the drug war can both be horrible ideas.

        1. “Injection sites and the drug war can both be horrible ideas.”

          That is an astute observation. All. It is, is a illibertarian response to an illibertarian exacerbated problem.

      2. I’d argue that if Libertarianism is about anything, it’s supposed to be about personal responsibility.

        This seems a bit anathema to that.

        1. I mean, WHY do we support drug legalization?

          Because people are fucking adults and don’t need others taking care of them. If they want to do something stupid, more power to them.

          But HERE, Reason is expecting OTHERS to deal with the headaches of dealing with people who AREN’T capable of taking care of themselves. Expecting others to deal with people who are a valid argument against drug legalization.

          Why should I, for example, be inconvenienced in ANY way so you can shoot up on heroin and not kill yourself. If I have to be annoyed and inconvenienced so you can do so, why would I support you doing so any longer?

  9. Why?

  10. As a current heroin consumer with Multiple Sclerosis, just re-legalize opiates over the counter like they were for thousands of years for all of history until 1915 when the Harrison Act went into effect.

    Prohibition has ruined my life, including a contaminated batch leaving me with Peripheral Neuropathy.

    Literally EVERY problem falsely blamed on heroin itself is caused exclusively by the PROHIBITION OF heroin.

    Also, get rid of all prescription laws. Prescription laws are the backbone of prohibition.


  11. […] It’s OK; I’m sure no more than a few dozen people will OD in the next year: […]

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