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California considers supervised drug use

Criminal justice efforts that legalize drugs have mixed results

Protesters demonstrate in support of a supervised injection site in Philadelphia in 2019. Associated Press/Photo by Matt Rourke (file)

California considers supervised drug use

A California state senator wants to give citizens easier access to drugs to improve equity in the criminal justice system. Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco has proposed one bill to end mandatory prison time for nonviolent drug crimes. Another would legalize injection sites—locations where individuals can use drugs under supervision—in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco. Wiener said those efforts would replace drug laws that disproportionately hurt minorities. But some warn such changes could have dangerous consequences for society.

Strict drug laws have sent many nonviolent offenders to prison, but experts disagree on whether reducing penalties for drug use is the best solution. Injection sites and drug decriminalization are not new ideas but remain relatively untried in the United States. Canada runs several “safe consumption sites,” where people can use drugs with medical supervision to prevent overdose deaths.

In November, Oregon voters approved ballot initiatives to reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and create licensed facilities for the purchase and use of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. A nonprofit called Safehouse is attempting to open an injection site in Philadelphia. On Jan. 12, a federal appeals court blocked the opening, but Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “We remain confident that federal law is not designed to force us to stand by silently or idly while our brothers and sisters are dying.”

Last March, Alberta, Canada, public health officials released a study showing that “safe consumption sites” had not lowered overall overdose deaths but did increase disorder in their neighborhoods. Christopher Rufo at the Heritage Foundation pointed out Canadians recently elected officials who oppose injection sites—even in provinces with large populations of progressive urban voters: “Their argument is simple: Safe injection sites have not delivered on their promises and have caused a significant increase in trash, crime, and disorder.”

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty-fighting and criminal justice. She resides with her family in Atlanta.



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