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Gov. Newsom vetoes safe drug use site bill, citing ‘unintended consequences’

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 07: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a "Vote No" get out the vote tour campaign stop at Mission Language and Vocational School on September 07, 2021 in San Francisco, California. With seven days to go until the California recall election, California Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to campaign throughout the state. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will be joining Gov. Newsom at a campaign event in the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Monday that would have allowed San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland to operate facilities for supervised drug use legally under state law.

In a memo about the veto, Newsom wrote that he is "acutely concerned" about allowing the sites to open without vetted operational plans.

"The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize - facilities which could exist well into the later part of this decade - could induce a world of unintended consequences," Newsom wrote in an Aug. 22 legislative memo.

The governor’s veto is likely to spark an outcry among harm reduction advocates who lobbied hard for the bill, Senate Bill 57, to be adopted.

San Francisco has longed signaled its plans to open up safe consumption facilities, having already purchased two buildings intended to serve as the city’s first officially sanctioned site. 

Newsom’s decision throws safe consumption sites, which are federally banned under the Controlled Substances Act, back into legal limbo.

It may not change San Francisco’s immediate plans, however: The city is awaiting a final decision in a court case that may carve out a legal path safe consumption sites at the federal level, and has been in discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice on appropriate guardrails for those sites. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who introduced SB 57, called Newsom's veto of the bill "tragic" in a statement.

“For eight years, a broad coalition has worked to pass this life-saving legislation. Each year this legislation is delayed, more people die of drug overdoses — two per day in San Francisco alone," Wiener wrote.

City Attorney David Chiu said in a statement on Monday that the city will back a nonprofit-run safe consumption site despite the veto, a model already adopted in New York City.

Mayor London Breed echoed Chiu's statement, writing that overdose prevention programs are "a key step in our efforts to help people struggling with addiction.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at