In Win for CA Syringe Programs, bad faith environmental lawsuits are prohibited


On October 5, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed Assembly bill 1344. The bill will prevent opponents of syringe service programs (SSPs) from suing them under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It comes in response to a series of lawsuits that have successfully used bad faith allegations that PHCs are harmful to the environment to shut them down.

The complaints are an updated version of the longtime favorite of opponents, albeit without merit: syringe litter. Recent lawsuits alleging “needle waste” polluting public spaces and waterways have forced several SSP closures in California.

“The importance is enormous,” said Dani Drysdale, coordinator of the Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County (HRCSCC), Filtered. The SSP managed by volunteers is currently facing a trial filed by opponents of harm reduction in the name of environmental protection.

“The implication is that the legislature cares very much that syringe programs continue to operate and that the state is not prosecuted for them. And that some members of the legislature are very concerned that environmental law does not conflict with public health programs. “

CEQA requires state and local governments to assess the environmental impact of any project that would use public funds. If the state government of California proposed to build a new school of witchcraft and witchcraft at Hogwarts, it would have to perform a CEQA review to determine what, if any, the environmental effects would be. If the review found that such a project would result in an unacceptable increase in broom emissions, it would be rejected.

that CEQA is intended to protect the environment has not stopped harm reduction opponents from manipulating it to target PHC, as it has been manipulated in the past to target homeless shelters.

“They are not environmentalists,” said HRCSCC founder Denise Elerick. Filtered. “This is a very conservative and right-wing lower abdomen of the state… This is clearly a lawsuit against the homeless masked by a concern for the environment.”

In 2018, CEQA complaints were closed the only SSP in Orange County. In 2020, similar campaigns were closed an SSP in Chico and another in Eureka. HRCSCC lawsuit alleges, without evidence, program resulted in “tens of thousands” of needles causing “environmental degradation of creeks, streams, rivers and beaches in Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County” . A Superior Court judge is expected to rule on the case this week.

All claims about syringe waste ignore the fact that there is no evidence that PAS has ever increased it – at HRCSCC or any other program – and a plethora of evidence that they are reducing it. To date, the number of documented cases of HIV transmission through improperly discarded syringes is zero.

Bill 1344 will not bring back closed programs; various cities, including Chico, have since banned SSP completely. It also does not guarantee the protection of the HRCSCC or any other California SSPs still in operation. The lawyer who represented all the plaintiffs in the CEQA shutdowns has sworn that if the decision doesn’t go his way, he will find other ways to shut down the HRCSCC.

“There are still tort and nuisance laws in place that allow them to be sued,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California state director for Drug Policy Alliance. Filtered. “CEQA would not be an obstacle. “

Photograph of a syringe disposal container via the town of Oak Creek, Wisconsin

The DPA previously made a small grant to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filtered, to support a Diversity in War on Drugs Journalism Fellowship.

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