S.F. un­daunted as Trump tries to stop Philly in­jec­tion site

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Bob Egelko Bob Egelko is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: [email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @BobEgelko

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is go­ing to court to stop a safe in­jec­tion site from open­ing in Philadel­phia, say­ing it would vi­o­late fed­eral drug laws — the same ac­tion it has threat­ened to take against San Fran­cisco, which plans to open one or more spa­ces of­fer­ing clean nee­dles, sy­ringes, med­i­cal care and coun­sel­ing to drug users.

“The pro­po­nents of the in­jec­tion site share our goal of end­ing this ter­ri­ble (opi­oid) epi­demic,” U.S. At­tor­ney Wil­liam McSwain said Wed­nes­day in an­nounc­ing the suit against a non­profit that plans to open the Philadel­phia in­jec­tion site. “But al­low­ing pri­vate cit­i­zens to break long-es­tab­lished fed­eral drug laws passed by Congress is not an ac­cept­able path for­ward.”

The suit re­lies on a fed­eral law that makes it a felony, pun­ish­able by up to 20 years in prison, fines and for­fei­ture of the prop­erty, to know­ingly op­er­ate a “place for the pur­pose of un­law­fully man­u­fac­tur­ing, dis­tribut­ing, or us­ing a con­trolled sub­stance.” Passed at a time of ris­ing crack co­caine use in in­ner cities, it was di­rected at pri­vate drug houses, and no court has yet ruled on whether it ap­plies to govern­ment su­per­vised sites aimed at re­duc­ing drug ad­dic­tion.

The Philadel­phia site would be op­er­ated by a re­cently in­cor­po­rated non­profit called Safe­side, with su­per­vi­sion from the city and sup­port from the mayor and dis­trict at­tor­ney. The San Fran­cisco fa­cil­i­ties would be di­rectly man­aged by the city un­der cur­rent plans, although Jeff Cre­tan, spokesman for Mayor London Breed, said Wed­nes­day that the mayor is “open to any so­lu­tion to get peo­ple off the streets and into treat­ment.”

“The mayor is aware of how this ad­min­is­tra­tion feels on these sites, but she’s still com­mit­ted to work­ing on this and mov­ing the site for­ward,” Cre­tan said.

No U.S. com­mu­nity has opened a place to su­per­vise drug in­jec­tions, but they have been le­gal­ized in 10 na­tions.

As a Bay Area law­maker noted, Pres­i­dent Trump’s Jus­tice Depart­ment filed the Philadel­phia law­suit less than 12 hours af­ter the pres­i­dent, in his State of the Union speech, pledged to “de­feat AIDS.”

“Safe in­jec­tion sites are a proven HIV pre­ven­tion strat­egy, in ad­di­tion to re­duc­ing over­dose deaths and help­ing peo­ple into re­cov­ery ser­vices,” state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Fran­cisco, said in a state­ment.

“The pres­i­dent is a hyp­ocrite, and his words mean noth­ing,” he said. “We are fully com­mit­ted to le­gal­iz­ing safe in­jec­tion sites in Cal­i­for­nia and pi­lot­ing them in San Fran­cisco.”

Wiener is a co-au­thor of leg­is­la­tion, AB362, that would amend state law to al­low San Fran­cisco to op­er­ate an in­jec­tion site for three years. The lead au­thor, As­sem­bly­woman Susan Eg­gman, D-Stock­ton, won pas­sage of a sim­i­lar bill last year, but Gov. Jerry Brown ve­toed it in Septem­ber.

“En­abling il­le­gal and de­struc­tive drug use will never work,” Brown said in his veto mes­sage.

But Gov. Gavin New­som, Brown’s suc­ces­sor and a for­mer San Fran­cisco mayor, has said he is “very open” to the idea. The city has put its plans on hold to await leg­isla­tive ac­tion.

The day af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved Eg­gman’s bill in Au­gust, the New York Times car­ried an opin­ion piece by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, Rod Rosen­stein, promis­ing “swift and ag­gres­sive ac­tion” against San Fran­cisco or any other com­mu­nity that opens an in­jec­tion site.

“It is a fed­eral felony to main­tain any lo­ca­tion for the pur­pose of fa­cil­i­tat­ing il­le­gal drug use,” Rosen­stein wrote. He ar­gued that the sites en­cour­age ad­dic­tion by send­ing a “pow­er­ful mes­sage to teenagers that the govern­ment thinks il­le­gal drugs can be used safely.”

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