“People Will Die Because of his Veto”—California Governor Jerry Brown Rejects San Francisco Supervised Consumption Spaces

On September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 186, a bill that would have authorized San Francisco to be the first US city to open supervised consumption spaces.

According to his letter to the members of the State Assembly, Brown refused to sign the bill because it did not align with his “paramount goal”—to “reduce the use of illegal drugs and opioids that daily enslave human beings and wreak havoc on our communities.”

“Fundamentally, I do not believe that enabling drug use in government sponsored injection centers—with no corresponding requirement that the user undergo drug treatment—will reduce drug addiction,” Brown wrote in his statement.

Brown’s skepticism of supervised consumption spaces’ misses the purpose of these harm reduction centers: namely, to offer safer conditions for drug use—preventing overdose deaths—while also providing resources that might support users’ autonomy over their health.

The programs created by the bill would have been required to provide “a hygienic space supervised by health care professionals, as defined, where people who use drugs can consume preobtained drugs, sterile consumption supplies.” Of presumed importance to Brown, the bill requires the programs to offer “referrals to substance use disorder treatment.” Yet Brown was not satisfied with the bill, presumably since drug treatment would not have been coerced.

Additionally, Brown claimed that he did not want to “expose local officials and health care professionals to potential criminal charges,” referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s warning that the Justice Department would prosecute supervised consumption spaces for “facilitating drug use.” In his statement to the State Assembly, the purportedly-liberal Governor Brown agreed with the prohibitionist rhetoric of conservative Rosenstein, stating, “enabling illegal and and destructive drug use will never work.”

Shortly after the veto, Assemblymember Susan Talamante Eggman, the writer and co-sponsor of the bill, responded via Twitter to Governor Brown:

“I’m disappointed by the Governor’s veto of #AB186. History has proven the war on drugs to be a failure. Evidence shows that overdose prevention programs save lives and get people into treatment. AB186 is not a panacea but is another tool to combat the opioid epidemic.”

Laura Thomas, interim state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed her dismay over the veto bluntly: “I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts and instead used outdated drug war ideology,” she said. “[P]eople will die because of his veto.”


Photograph: Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

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