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Newsom vetoes California bill for supervised drug injection sites

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Aug. 11 in Antioch, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill on Monday that would have allowed sites for supervised drug use — a program aimed at preventing accidental overdoses — to operate in three of the state’s largest cities.

The legislation would have allowed supervised injection sites to operate in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland through the end of 2027, “providing a hygienic space supervised by trained staff where people who use drugs can consume preobtained drugs.”

Newsom said in a letter to the state Senate that he was concerned about “the unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize,” as they “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,” he wrote.

In San Francisco, at least 346 people have died this year from accidental drug overdoses, according to the city’s chief medical examiner. Open drug use on the city’s streets — particularly in the Tenderloin neighborhood, where more than 1 in 5 of the overdose deaths this year occurred — has become a flash point in debates over San Francisco’s embrace of liberal policies. Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin in December.

Supervised sites aim to give people an area to inject drugs without fear of legal repercussions and with the safety net of workers who can intervene in an overdose. The sites typically also provide clean needles and dispose of used ones in an effort to prevent the spread of diseases and to keep used needles off the streets.

Inside a pioneering U.S. site authorized to monitor people using drugs

Opponents of such sites question their effectiveness and say they essentially condone drug use. State Sen. Brian Dahle (R), who represents a rural district in Northern California and is running against Newsom in this fall’s gubernatorial election, said on Twitter that he was “thankful” the bill was vetoed. “Open-air drug sites are not a solution & certainly not compassionate. We must provide better treatment options than handing out drug paraphernalia,” he wrote.

The bill narrowly passed the legislature despite large Democratic majorities in each chamber — skirting by with the minimum 21 votes in the Senate and by one vote over the minimum in the Assembly, far from the two-thirds vote in each chamber required to override a veto.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who represents San Francisco, said in a statement that California had “lost a huge opportunity to address one of our most deadly problems” because of Newsom’s veto.

He said the legislation was “not a radical bill by any stretch of the imagination. It simply gives permission to cities — each of which has requested that permission — to pilot safe consumption sites to save lives and get people into treatment.”

Four years ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed similar legislation. He wrote that he had concluded “the disadvantages of this bill far outweigh the possible benefits.”

Newsom’s veto comes amid speculation that he is positioning himself to run for president, despite his declaration in May that he has “subzero interest” in doing so. He aired an Independence Day ad on television in Florida criticizing the policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — who is also considered to be eyeing a presidential campaign — telling Floridians, “Don’t let them take your freedom.”

If Newsom were to run for office, he would need to deflect existing attacks by Republicans that California, and San Francisco in particular, is a liberal haven that is soft on crime. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (D) was recalled in June in what was seen as a broad rebuke of his liberal policies amid brazen shoplifting and car break-ins.

Newsom wrote on Monday that he wanted “strong, engaged local leadership and well-documented, vetted, and thoughtful operational and sustainability plans” for the sites. He directed the state health and human services secretary to gather local officials to discuss standards and best practices for the sites’ operation.

He said he remained open to discussions when recommendations for a limited program were brought to the legislature.