Column: Newsom deepens drug war with veto of ‘safe sites’

Remember how awesome the last war on drugs was?

As we criminalized addiction in the 1980s and filled jails and jails with blacks and browns, sure we could punish ourselves from the crack epidemic — eventually reaching the point where 1 in 3 blacks in America were in their 20s was 29 was incarcerated, on parole or parole?

How we broke up families and sent an entire generation of children into foster care instead of helping their mothers with treatment?

How wealthy drug users were protected from scrutiny in their homes and glorified for hit Hollywood movies while their poor peers were vilified as hookers, thieves and gangbangers?

Our obsession with all things ’80s seems to have gone from entertainment to public this week with Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoing Senate Bill 57 that would have allowed Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland to open supervised safe drug use establishments Order passed – At a time when an average of 18 Californians die from an opioid overdose every day, 6,843 people lost their lives in 2021.

We’ve delved into what experts call a “harm reduction” approach to addiction, guided by the philosophy that people need treatment, not cells. But our political leaders’ feet have turned freezing cold and they are returning to more familiar territory.

California, meet the new drug war, just like the old drug war, in too many unsettling ways.

Don’t expect this one to be more successful.

Over the past year, we’ve seen politicians in our state and at every level of government respond to our frustrations about homelessness, addiction, and a lack of affordable housing with the simplest and least effective political solution: crackdowns.

crackdown on crime. Raids on camps. Raids on low-level vendors and users and street vendors just trying to sell a few bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Raids on illegal guns (OK, that’s good) and street gangs and sleeping on sidewalks near schools. The DMV even cracked down on illegal car recyclers.

Our politicians want us to know that they are getting tough, taking things seriously, making change – when the truth is they are the same recycled mistakes, some tempered by current mores but no more effectively than ever. Raids mean criminalization, which means incarceration—and the endless emigration of our most vulnerable citizens, sucked in and spit out by the justice system.

San Francisco police have already returned to subpoenaing people for possession of drug paraphernalia, a tactic dating back to 1984 championed by Mayor London Breed, who embraced the tough carnival by declaring one in the tenderloin earlier this year . At the same time, the suburban crisis is being treated very differently by teenagers buying pills on Snapchat and dying in their bedrooms, a tragedy I in no way belittle.

Of course, many of our criminal justice reforms are irreversible and offer safeguards against a true return to lock ’em up justice. And our acknowledgment of the systemic racism perpetuated by old drug laws – such as harsher penalties for crack than cocaine – should require us to think twice before we tighten penalties for trafficking in fentanyl and new variations of increasingly deadly drugs .

But the mentality that led us to follow another Californian, Ronald Reagan, deeper into the war on drugs — a misguided need for politicians for accomplishment rather than substance — bubbles to the surface like mud from a clogged drain.

In his veto message on SB 57, Newsom said he had “long supported the latest harm reduction strategies” but halted this pilot program because it “is possible that these sites would help improve the safety and health of our urban areas.” , the risk of “unintended consequences” was too great.

However, he does direct that cities and counties develop standards and best practices for open consumption locations and “remain open” to future suggestions after this study is complete. Probably long after he’s out of the governor’s office.

Newsom has said he most definitely is not run for the presidency but he’s clearly delving into all sorts of political triangulations to give himself options should the opportunity arise.

Why else would he direct his press coverage far outside of our Golden State? Of late, his ads targeting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (and their responses) have given all three men a glorious boost in their ability to reach a larger potential base . A recent nudge from our governor, as part of “our new series Hypocrite or Fraud‘ features a more relaxed, less jargon-laced Newsom attacking DeSantis for his stance against vaccination mandates and pointing out that Florida needs seven shots before children can attend public schools.

I understand the personal logic of the veto. Opening safe drug consumption points would be like handing your political defenders a club and asking them to destroy your future. The Fox News chyrons write themselves. Newsom legalizes hard drugs. Failed California opens drug dens. Newsom to Addicts: The streets are yours!

Tucker Carlson would have a great time. As a policy, safe consumption places are a loser for Newsom. That veto is the clearest signal yet that he envisions running for president one day and has no intention of spoiling his chances with anything that might make his success more difficult.

Politics, however, is a different animal – one that feeds best on courage and clarity. There is nothing bold about this veto, and the rationale behind it is brimming with expediency. When it comes to saving lives, safe points of consumption are a necessity while we take care of the rest – just as homeless shelters are a stopgap while we build homes.

To be honest, until I visited safe places like this in Vancouver, Canada, where they’ve been running for decades, I was against it. They sound cruel, and in truth they can be difficult to witness. It’s a room full of people who smoke and inject heroin, meth, fentanyl, or combinations that would kill most of us with a single dose, but many of these struggling people have built a terrible tolerance.

Should they quit? Absolutely. Should Addiction Be a Death Sentence? no

All safe injection sites do is keep a user alive another day in the hopes that they’ll breathe long enough to make the decision to stop using it. That’s it. They’re just triage centers for the wounded. If no one dies inside a safe consumption facility, it’s a success.

But I think politicians, including Newsom, are misinterpreting us. Yes, we are tired and heartbroken by what we see on our streets. Yes, we want change. We don’t want needles in our playgrounds, smashed car windows, or unconscious drug users sprawled on our sidewalks.

However, I don’t think many Californians want to go back to the war on drugs or criminalize people with addiction problems or kill them through indifference. That makes us tired too.

I think we want a policy that works. And while it might not work in Kansas, Californians are sophisticated enough to understand that some fixes aren’t pretty. The veto of safe places of use will no more restrict drug use than arresting drug users. But it costs lives.

The bill’s author, San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener, said after the veto that he likely won’t bring the idea back unless the governor’s position changes. Meanwhile, about 6,000 Californians—if not more—will die from an overdose each year.

In our new war, or perhaps this ongoing war that never really ended, these lives are collateral damage – casualties of both politics and drugs. Column: Newsom deepens drug war with veto of ‘safe sites’

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