The California Assembly on Thursday backed a bill passed by the state Senate that would create a pilot program allowing some local governments to approve safe consumption locations where people might consume currently illegal narcotics under medical supervision.
Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D) measure was approved by the chamber with a vote of 42 to 28. It still needs Senate approval after the July break before possibly moving to the governor’s desk because it was altered during the Assembly committee process.
SB 57 has traveled a lengthy road; it was first introduced in December 2020 and passed by the entire Senate in April 2021. It passed through the Health and Public Safety Committees before the most recent Assembly floor vote.
Following the vote on Thursday, Wiener said that safe consumption sites “are a proven strategy to save lives & get people into treatment.” Wiener has supported several drug policy reform bills in the legislation, including one to legalize possession of psychedelics that has languished in legislative limbo since passing the Senate and two Assembly panels last year.
The senator stated in a news statement that “every overdose fatality is preventable.” “We have the means to put an end to these fatalities, restore health to the populace, and lessen the harm caused by drug usage. We need to repeal the absurd legal prohibition that is currently causing people to die on our streets. The passage of SB 57, which is long overdue, will have a significant impact on some of our community’s most vulnerable residents.
These harm reduction initiatives have a history, as Wiener has already noted, and other nations have successfully shown that they can save lives. Officials in New York City have praised the early results after becoming the first city in the United States to sanction safe consumption facilities despite federal impediments.
At the federal level, the drug czar for the White House recently stated that the Biden administration is exploring larger drug policy harm reduction options, including the approval of supervised consumption sites—and he even went so far as to recommend probable decriminalization.
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The idea to abolish the current federal ban is on the table, according to Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Rahul Gupta, even if the Biden administration is currently looking into the therapeutic effectiveness of such facilities. The remarks were made when the Justice Department was involved in continuing lawsuit over the legitimacy of safe consumption places, which was brought about as a challenge to the nonprofit Safehouse, based in Philadelphia.
As part of a comprehensive strategy for harm reduction and public safety, the DOJ stated in February that it is actively “considering supervised consumption facilities, including discussions with state and local authorities about appropriate guardrails for such locations.”
A lower federal court is currently hearing the case even after the Supreme Court declined to hear it in October. The case concerns the legitimacy of establishing the Safehouse facilities.
In order to fund research into how that and other harm reduction strategies could assist address the drug problem, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued two requests for applications (RFAs) in December.
To prevent overdose deaths, Gupta previously stated that it’s imperative to consider “any and every alternative,” which can include providing safe consumption locations for illicit substances if the research shows that they are effective.
By stating that “we are literally attempting to give people a lifeline,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has also indicated that the Biden administration will not take action to prevent the creation of safe injection sites.
A representative for the department then took back those statements, saying that “HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption locations” and that the “problem is a topic of current litigation.” In any case, the DOJ would be in charge of deciding whether to prosecute facility operators under the Controlled Substances Act.
At the legislative level, a New York Assembly committee last month advanced a plan to create a program for safe consumption sites across the state, allowing regulators to approve locations where people might use currently illegal narcotics under medical supervision.
However, the governor of Vermont recently vetoed a bill that would have merely established a working group charged with formulating a strategy to launch safe consumption facilities, dealing a blow to proponents.
According to a poll conducted in April, most Americans (64 percent) are in favor of permitting safe consumption venues.
Back in California, the legislature on Wednesday passed a measure that offers the state’s marijuana industry significant tax relief in the hopes that it will reduce the black market while promoting authorized firms and equity holdings.