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SF injection site bill poised for passage

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Overdose prevention program would allow for experimental injection drug centers in SF until 2026

A discarded needle with an orange cap on a San Francisco sidewalk. Photo via Shutterstock

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown nixed San Francisco’s plan to open safe injection sites for intravenous drug users in 2018, an attempt to mitigate the effects of open-air drug use and discarded needles on streets and in transit stations.

Now, with Brown out of office, a new push to make the proposal a reality is underway.

Assembly Bill 326—dubbed the “controlled substances overdose prevention program” and authored by Assemblymember Susan Eggman (who represents part of San Joaquin County) and coauthored by SF lawmakers like Assemblymember David Chiu and State Sen. Scott Wiener—passed an assembly vote 44-26 last week.

All assemblymembers from Bay Area districts voted in favor. The bill previously passed the assembly’s Health Committee and Public Safety Committee via unanimous votes in March and April, respectively.

According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest:

This bill would, until January 1, 2026, authorize the City and County of San Francisco to approve entities to operate overdose prevention programs for persons 18 years of age or older that satisfy specified requirements, including, among other things, the provision of providing a hygienic space supervised by health care professionals, as defined, where adults people who use drugs can consume pre-obtained drugs, use providing sterile consumption supplies, and access to providing access or referrals to substance use disorder treatment.

If passed, AB 326 would “exempt a person from, among other things, civil liability, professional discipline, or existing criminal sanctions” for otherwise illicit drug use at the designated sites.

It would also mandate injection clinics to “provide access or referrals to substance use disorder treatment services, medical services, mental health services, and social services.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed voiced support for safe injection centers, declaring in 2018, “I am committed to opening one of these sites here in San Francisco, no matter what it takes.”

She went on to say that “safe injection sites save lives,” framing the possible program as a way to prevent drug overdoses and usher patients into treatment.

The proposal could also cut down on hazardous medical waste on city streets. According to the SF Department of Public Health, “85 percent of injection drug users would use these types of services” if available, leading to more safe disposal and less frequent street use.

Governor Brown vetoed Eggman’s previous bill, AB 186, in 2019, declaring “I do not believe that enabling illegal drug use in government sponsored injection centers [...] will reduce drug addiction.”

But current Gov. Gavin Newsom said in February that he is “open” to the experiment in SF.

Eggman’s bill must now pass through the senate. The assemblymember’s previous injection site legislation passed the California Senate on a 21-16 vote in 2018.

Attempts to implement the law in the future may lead the city and state into another showdown with the federal government. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein voiced opposition to the proposal last year, noting that controlled substances remain illegal at the federal level despite what laws SF and California may pass.

Rosenstein left the Justice Department this month, but opposition is likely to manifest from other corridors in the future.