By Leah Harris

California Harm Reduction Legislation Poised to Offer Treatment, Alternative to Criminalization for Drug Users

Late last month, the California Assembly passed AB 326, a bill that represents a major step for advocates and policymakers seeking to curb the tragic devastation wrought by the opioid crisis, exacerbated by the shortage of affordable housing.

While the bill focuses on the City of San Francisco, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) introduced a resolution last month asking that the bill allowing for the creation for San Francisco’s site include Oakland as well. If the bill passes the Senate, Governor Gavin Newsom indicated that he would sign the legislation.

According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest:

“This bill would, until January 1, 2026, authorize the City and County of San Francisco to approve entities to operate overdose prevention programs for persons 18 years of age or older that satisfy specified requirements, including, among other things, the provision of providing a hygienic space supervised by health care professionals, as defined, where people who use drugs can consume pre-obtained drugs, providing sterile consumption supplies, and providing access or referrals to substance use disorder treatment.”

If passed, AB 326 would “exempt a person from, among other things, civil liability, professional discipline, or existing criminal sanctions” for legally prohibited drug use at the designated sites. The bill would require injection clinics to “provide access or referrals to substance use disorder treatment services, medical services, mental health services, and social services.”

Safe injection sites, also known as “supervised consumption sites,” and termed “overdose prevention sites,” by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, have the potential to save countless lives. These safe injection sites will also help to address the accumulation of hazardous waste in the streets resulting from drug users having nowhere to go to inject safely and privately. According to the SF Department of Public Health, “85 percent of injection drug users would use these types of services” if they were accessible and available.

The Harm reduction movement emerged in response to the “war on drugs” that began in the 1980s. The “war on drugs” policy direction has not curbed addiction, and has only served to fuel mass incarceration. Harm reduction principles seek to improve quality of life for drug users, to promote treatment over punishment, and to center the lived experience of drug users as experts in developing policies, practices, and programs designed to serve them.

For more information about harm reduction efforts in Alameda County and beyond, check out the following resources.

Supervised Consumption Services (Drug Policy Alliance)