Newsom, Out Front on Marriage and Marijuana, Faces ‘Different Animal’ On Drug Sites

Gavin Newsom is facing one of the toughest political decisions of his career: whether to grant state permission for San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to open experimental safe injection sites as a way to curb California’s overdose crisis.

Most elected leaders couldn’t veto something like this fast enough. Condoning illegal drug use — even if it is supervised by professionals — sounds politically insane.

But since his first days in elective office, Newsom has been at his best when he’s looking around the corner and leading on a controversial issue, long before it’s well understood, much less politically popular. Think about his leadership on same-sex marriage, the legalization of cannabis, rolling back the death penalty, toughest-in-the-nation gun safety laws and making California an abortion rights sanctuary.

Newsom was out front early and loudly on those issues — even when the rest of America thought he was nuts and the moves jeopardized his career.

“SF Mayor Gavin Newsom Risks Career on Gay Marriage” blared a Newsweek headline in January 2009, two months after California voters backed Proposition 8, which banned the same-sex marriages that Newsom had approved weeks after beginning his stint as San Francisco’s mayor in 2004. After the loss, Newsweek wrote that “Newsom has become a joke to Democratic insiders, a man whose bright national future ended before it began.”

So much for predictions. Score one for being ahead of the curve.

But this decision is different, which may be why insiders say Newsom is hesitating about whether to approve the pilot program to allow people to inject or smoke drugs in the presence of harm-reduction specialists in controlled settings. As my colleague Heather Knight has written about extensively, it is a way to address the overdose epidemic that is out of control. Since 2020, 1,649 people have died of overdoses in San Francisco, nearly twice as many as those who have died due to COVID-19.

This is not an untried idea. Similar sites have been operating in Canada and Europe. New York has been running two since last year. The city’s new mayor — former police officer Eric Adams, hardly a progressive — likes them so much that he’s considering keeping them open all night.

It seems like the exact type of cutting-edge idea that Newsom would leap to support, said Kim Nalder, a professor of political science at Sacramento State University.

“With so many issues, he’s shown that he’s willing to blaze a trail, so it’s already his brand,” Nalder said. “Californians already expect him to do things that are out of the mainstream that might be ahead of the rest of the country. So I don’t think it hurts him to do more bold actions because that’s part of his logo already.”

There’s one problem. In raw political terms, it’s a loser.

Unlike Newsom’s move to legalize same-sex marriage or put his weight behind cannabis and abortion rights, there’s no constituency for needle drug users. After Newsom permitted San Francisco to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, there was a long, joyous line of loving couples snaking around City Hall, eternally grateful to Newsom for enabling them to do something they thought would never happen in their lifetime — get married.

Politically, he was prescient. Then, about 42% of Americans supported gay marriage, according to Gallup. Now, 71% of the country — including a majority of Republicans — support same-sex nuptials.

Newsom was also ahead of the curve when he led the drive to legalize cannabis in California in 2016 while he was lieutenant governor, becoming one of the highest-ranking officials in the country to back legalization. Longtime former GOP operative Tim Miller praised Newsom for his weed work and said he could take it even further.

“Running a national ‘Legalize It’ (cannabis) campaign would be really popular,” said Miller, who was a bare-knuckled political operative when he worked on presidential campaigns for John McCain and Jon Huntsman.

“But needle drugs?” Miller said and shook his head. “This is just a different, different animal.”

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

San Francisco Is Allowing People to Use Drugs Inside New Tenderloin Treatment Linkage Center

San Francisco is allowing people to use drugs in an outdoor area of Mayor London Breed’s new Tenderloin Linkage Center in United Nations Plaza, interviews and Chronicle observations confirm.

Several people told The Chronicle in interviews Tuesday that they had used drugs inside the fenced-in area bordering the center’s entrance on U.N. Plaza. In addition to the outdoor area, the city offers basic hygiene services, food, clothing and connections to services such as treatment and housing on the first floor of the seven-story building.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Jeff Cretan, said in an email that the “emergency initiative is about doing everything we can to help people struggling with addiction, and getting them connected to services and treatment. As part of that, the linkage center is serving as a low-barrier site to bring people off the street.”

The revelation that people are using drugs at the week-old site was first reported on the Substack newsletter of Michael Shellenberger, an author who has criticized progressive policies in San Francisco he sees as too permissive.

Addiction experts and advocates differ on whether allowing those who struggle with substance use disorder to get high at the site will help them get connected to treatment, with some saying it acknowledges a necessary reality on a journey to get help and others calling it counterproductive.

Shellenberger accused the city of running an “illicit drug consumption site” and a “supervised drug consumption area,” which is currently illegal under state and federal law.

Francis Zamora, a spokesperson for the Department of Emergency Management, which is running the linkage center, denied the city was operating a supervised consumption site. San Francisco is working to follow New York City in opening such a site, which would provide medical supervision and clean supplies, despite its questionable legal status.

Even if city officials are turning a blind eye to illegal drug use, they’re unlikely to face legal liability, said Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor and co-director of the school’s Criminal Justice Center.

“Prosecutors have almost unreviewable discretion not to bring a charge,” Weisberg said. “I don’t think anybody would have standing to complain,” he said, because it would be hard for an individual to show he or she was injured by San Francisco’s actions or inactions.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

OC, Riverside County Announce Crackdown on Fentanyl Dealers. But Not LA County

Dealers who sell fentanyl-laced drugs that result in death can face murder charges under tough new policies announced by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin on Monday, Nov. 9.

“We have seen a 1,000% increase over the last five years as a result of overdoses and deaths by fentanyl,” Spitzer said. “Rich, poor, Black, White, Brown, men, women, children, hardcore drug users and first-time drug users who are exposed have died.”

Spitzer will add an admonishment to plea deals, in which dealers acknowledge that fentanyl is in street drugs and can be deadly.

If that dealer is involved in another fentanyl sale that results in death, second-degree murder charges can be filed. In Riverside County, Hestrin is prosecuting seven second-degree murder cases against alleged pill pushers on the theory of implied malice, and has several more in the pipeline.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

San Francisco Embraced a New Religion: Drug Normalization


San Francisco, CA, USADrugs are destroying San Francisco’s most densely populated and desirable neighborhoods, as more and more addicts, many of them homeless, fill the streets. Politicians and activists are pushing “harm reduction,” which, in a clinical sense, means a “set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use,” such as overdose or the transmission of disease. But in a contemporary context, it also means “a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.”

Harm reduction, originally a controversial public-health measure, has become a religion among advocates, even as fears that the practice would normalize drug use have been borne out. Organizations like the San Francisco Drug Users Union demand “a safe environment where people can use & enjoy drugs” and a “positive image of drug users to engender respect within our community and from outside our community.” True believers dominate City Hall as well as a network of affiliated, politicized nonprofits that operate in the city with little oversight or accountability. In this environment, questioning harm reduction or its effects borders on heresy. But are the programs actually helping impoverished addicts? And what is the impact on the community?

The Department of Public Health distributes 4.45 million needles each year to the city’s 22,000 intravenous drug users. Heroin and prescription opioids are the most injected substances, though use of methamphetamines and Fentanyl is on the rise. It’s true that sterile needles reduce the transmission of blood-borne infections, and injecting narcotics under supervision can lower the risk of overdose and death. But harm reduction goes far beyond promoting these kinds of needle-safety measures. For example, At the Crossroads, a nonprofit, assembled “safe snorting kits” for at-risk and homeless youth. Baggies were filled with straws, chopping mats, plastic razor blades, and instruction sheets. Other groups offer crack-cocaine “safe-smoking” kits. A proposal to open “safe injection” sites, opposed by Jerry Brown, is favored by Governor Gavin Newsom, and is likely to succeed.

Harm-reduction efforts are sometimes sold as ways to connect with addicts, offer them other services, and help them get off drugs. But those laudable goals are not really what motivate advocates, who want mostly to remove the stigma surrounding drug use. Addicts may eventually pursue treatment or stop using on their own, but a central principle of harm-reduction theory is accepting and respecting drug use. As a result, an astonishing number of addicts on San Francisco streets hover on the edge of death, despite a continuous supply of clean needles.

Visit city neighborhoods ranging from the iconic Union Square and the Financial District to historically troubled areas such as the Tenderloin, Civic Center, and South of Market, and the unintended consequences of harm reduction become hard to ignore. The advocates have certainly succeeded in reducing stigma—it’s easy to find people openly injecting into their arms, legs, toes, and necks. Their exposed flesh shows infected sores; they stumble, fall, and pass out. There seem to be more of them, and in worse condition, every day. Addicts congregate on sidewalks, in parks, subway stations, and outside businesses. They die in school doorways.

As for the needles, addicts are encouraged to take as many as they want. The city program does not involve needle exchange, so it offers no incentive properly to dispose of used needles. San Francisco’s streets and transportation system are littered with discarded syringes. After massive public outcry (and streams of embarrassing media reports) about the proliferation of hazardous medical waste on the streets and sidewalks, the city contracted with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, at approximately $1 million per year, to hire a cleanup crew. Roughly 60 percent of the needles now get collected.

Meantime, quality of life in the city continues to erode. Tourism is threatenedretailers close, and families leave. Yet harm-reduction zealots remain adamant in their views. During public discussions about safe-injection sites, they dismiss legitimate concerns about increased drug-dealing, burglaries, violence, and vagrancy. In community meetings, Department of Public Health representatives disregard residents’ misgivings. Typical complaints—“Why are you doing this? Bloody needles are everywhere, people are injecting in front of my kid’s preschool, I’m afraid to take my dog for a walk”—are met with responses that usually begin, “This is harm reduction.” In San Francisco’s brave new world, there is no room for the skeptic.

Huge Drug-Smuggling Tunnel Discovered Beneath U.S. / Mexico Border


As reported by Newsweek:

After one of the longest cross-border tunnels between Mexico and the U.S. was discovered near San Diego earlier this month, several tons of cocaine and marijuana were seized, officials said on Wednesday.

The 2,622-foot-long tunnel started under a house in Tijuana, Mexico and ran to an industrial lot in Otay Mesa, around 20 miles southeast of San Diego, which was advertised as being part of a wooden pallet business, the Associated Press reports. The tunnel was about three feet wide and had rail and lighting systems and ventilation. The tunnel’s exit in the U.S. was a three-foot-diameter hole that was sometimes covered by a large dumpster.

The Tijuana house where the tunnel originated was equipped with a “sophisticated” elevator large enough for eight people, according to the Justice Department. The tunnel is believed to be the longest discovered along the California-Mexico border. …

Click here to read the full story

Police Face New Rules When Seizing Money From Drug Suspects


As reported by the Orange County Register:

Local police are scrambling to fill the financial hole left in their drug-fighting resources by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to stop allowing them to take cash and property from suspected dealers without warrants or convictions.

Holder’s decision is limited to federal asset forfeiture rules. And for regional task forces that include federal agents – such as the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program – there may be no change. Local police departments increasingly might use state forfeiture programs that offer more protection for defendants.

Holder said in his announcement last week he was attempting to safeguard civil liberties. …

Read the full story here

Drone Carrying Meth Falls Near Border


As reported by the U-T San Diego:

A small aerial drone crashed about two miles from the U.S. border in Mexico carrying several pounds of methamphetamine, Mexican police said Wednesday.

The discovery at a shopping mall parking lot in Tijuana, within walking distance of the U.S. border crossing, raises the prospect of a new, high-tech front in the struggle between drug gangs and law enforcement.

Tijuana’s metropolitan police department said an anonymous caller reported the crash of the remote control aircraft at about 10 p.m. Tuesday. Officials from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office were seen scouring …

Read full story here