California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have allowed San Francisco to run safe injection sites under a pilot program, warning that the initiative could lead to the federal prosecution of local officials and clinicians.

In his veto message Sunday, Brown, a Democrat who is in his last few months of office, also said he doubted that “enabling illegal drug use in government sponsored injection centers — with no corresponding requirement that the user undergo treatment — will reduce drug addiction.”

The veto of the measure, Assembly Bill 186, is the latest in a back-and-forth debate as a number of cities around the country vow to find ways to open safe injections sites, also known as supervised injection facilities. Such locations would allow people to bring their own drugs in and use them under medical supervision. Public health experts and advocates have called for allowing such sites as a way to reduce fatal overdoses and the transmission of such diseases as HIV and hepatitis C, pointing to evidence from locations in Canada and Europe.


“If we are going to prevent overdoses and connect people to services and treatment that they badly need to stop using drugs in the first place, we need safe injection sites,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement.

Breed said she was disappointed in Brown’s veto and that she planned to work with “community partners … to come up with a solution to move this effort forward.”

But federal authorities have made clear that they would not turn a blind eye to safe injection sites. They have taken the view that such programs enable drug use and would worsen the addiction crisis.

“Because federal law clearly prohibits injection sites, cities and counties should expect the Department of Justice to meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action,” Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in August.

To some in California, that warning isn’t enough to sway them.

“We should not allow threats from a backward federal government stop us from helping people who are dying on our streets,” state Sen. Scott Wiener, one of the co-authors of the measure, said in a statement Sunday.

He noted that without safe injection sites, people will just continue to inject drugs on San Francisco’s streets and in the city’s parks and transit stations.

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