The California Narcotics Officers’ Association on Friday urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto Senate Bill 57, which would establish safe injection sites in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.
Current state and federal law prohibit knowingly and willfully allow people to take illegal drugs in a space, but SB 57 would eliminate the prohibition and launch pilot consumption sites in the cities.
The bill passed both houses of the state Legislature and is now awaiting approval from Newsom.
SB 57 was introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The city Wiener represents saw 711 fatal overdoses in 2020, 640 in 2021 and expects similar or higher numbers in 2022, city health officials said.
John Lovell, the legislative advocate for the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, said that the bill, while “nobly intentioned,” was “poorly drafted” and would produce “bad results.”
Lovell said that continuous use of injection sites reaches only 5 percent of drug users, while creating a “magnet effect” of drug dealing, drug use, homelessness, crime and violence in the community surrounding the site.
Tak Allen, president of the International Faith Based Coalition and the Congress of Racial Equality, said that the communities most likely to be impacted by these sites and the increased drug use around them are underserved, struggling neighborhoods.
Allen cited a lack of transparency about secondary effects as a concern for SB 57.
“We haven’t spoken about the overdoses that take place right outside the doors,” Allen said. “We don’t have a full picture as to what is being requested.”
The pilot program that would be established by SB 57 if it is signed by Newsom would begin in 2023 and last for five years.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert expressed concern on behalf of the California District Attorneys Association 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.
Ed Pecis, the first vice president and incoming president of the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, said that he “vehemently opposes” the bill, favoring instead a focus on rehabilitation services.
Pecis, who also works as a chaplain for the drug treatment center Haven House, said that drug users must be held accountable, but addiction should be recognized as a disease that needs help.
The former officer also said drug users can be motivated with enforcement of laws against illegal drugs, including taking away the custody of drug users’ children.
“If there’s anything I’ve seen that works to motivate moms, it’s to take the children out of the home,” Pecis said.
Ron Brooks, the executive director of the National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition, said the sites will not help in preventing overdoses, citing Vancouver and the Netherlands who have established sites and seen an increase in overdoses.
“There is no safe way to do that,” Brooks said. “These are not safe.”
Jim Cooper, a state assemblymember and the sheriff-elect of Sacramento County, and Dr. Roneet Lev, former chief medical officer of the White House National Drug Policy, said the better solution is to focus on establishing more rehabilitation and drug treatment programs.
Wiener, the author of the bill, has said that using safe injection sites should be done in conjunction with efforts to expand treatment options, rather than siding with one or the other.
“Our local communities are in crisis with people dying of overdoses on our streets, and they are coming to us and asking us for permission to do this. They’re asking us for permission to save lives. It is our responsibility as a state to support our local communities and to let them try this out,” Wiener said Wednesday.
Newsom’s decision to sign or veto the bill will soon determine whether the injection sites will be established in the three cities.