By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – Appointed San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has shifted the focus of her department to combat drug offenses. On Thursday, she announced a new policy whereby the DA’s office “will bundle misdemeanor drug possession charges for individuals with at least five misdemeanor citations for public drug use.”
According to a release, “individuals with bundled charges will be referred to the Community Justice Center.”
“Helping substance users access treatment and services through the Community Justice Center will save lives,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins in a release announcing the policy change. “When someone reaches five citations for public drug use, that is a clear signal that they are in a crisis and need support. Addressing substance use and addiction in our community requires an all-hands-on-deck approach that includes the criminal justice system. We will continue our office’s laser focus on holding drug dealers accountable.”
For critics, this is another way to backdoor in criminal charges for simple drug possession.
John Hamasaki, who is running against Jenkins in November, tweeted on Thursday, “Treatment for people suffering from drug addiction, that sounds great! This isn’t that. What this does is ramps up policing of people struggling with addiction.”
DA Jenkins’ release notes that the Community Justice Center (CJC) “was always intended to help those with substance abuse issues who need help, not drug dealers.”
Critics note that many drug dealers are actually users who are attempting to finance their habit by selling drugs on the side.
Still, Jenkins has “introduced new drug policies for drug dealers to stop the previous administrations practice of referring drug dealers arrested with up to 100 grams of fentanyl to the Community Justice Center.”
She described the CJC as “a unique court that works to connect the community to the criminal justice system and addresses issues that have led to a participant’s criminal justice involvement. The court prioritizes the use of restorative justice and treatment services for substance use, mental health, and other primary health issues and adjudicates criminal cases from the Tenderloin, Civic Center, Union Square, and South of Market neighborhoods.”
However, Hamasaki noted that sending these cases to Community Justice Court sounds good, “Except this does nothing to provide treatment.”
Hamasaki said, “So people with drug use issues go to CJC, but there are not any more treatment beds available, because City Hall hasn’t funded them appropriately.”
Under this proposal, CJC can order drug testing. But what happens when people test “dirty,” as they inevitably will.
“That’s where this gets messy,” Hamasaki pointed out. “If you ‘wash out’ of CJC with a dirty test, criminal proceedings are reinstated. This means that after the cases are ‘compassionately’ sent to CJC, the person tests dirty, they go back to the Hall of Justice. And then go through the criminal process just like the war on drugs.”
He argued, “So now, people are at the Hall with 5 open criminal cases for addiction—a public health issue. Five cases = 5 years of exposure to incarceration for being ill. Does that seem compassionate? Does that follow best practices in 2022?”
Hamasaki added, “We need to tackle drug use as a public health issue—something every expert agrees on. The Biden administration has put forth plans centered around harm reduction.”
But he said, “In San Francisco, we are now going back to the 1980’s, centering incarceration. This is not smart justice.
“Everyone should be unhappy about the conditions on our streets, but let’s dedicate the resources to solving them,” he added. “Every dollar spent on policing and prosecution of users is a dollar taken away from treatment and counseling. That’s all this does, siphons off treatment funds.”
Jenkins tweeted, “Our office is laser-focused on holding drug dealers accountable. We need to help those (with) substance abuse issues, not drug dealers. New drug policies were introduced to stop the previous administration’s practice of referring drug dealers to the CJC.”
She added, “Helping substance users access treatment & services through the CJC will save lives. When someone reaches 5 citations for public drug use, they’re in a crisis & need support. Addressing addiction requires a holistic approach that includes the criminal justice system.”
Experts such as the Drug Policy Alliance point out that the differentiation between drug sellers and drug users is problematic.
“Research and history have shown that the vilification and criminalization of people who sell drugs does not reduce problematic drug use, reduce the availability of drugs, or keep people who use drugs safer,” a 2019 policy paper by DPA pointed out.
Instead they noted a 2012 survey which found that “43% of people who reported having sold drugs in the past year also reported that they met the criteria for a substance use disorder.”
Further, “Laws against drug selling are so broadly written that it is easy for people caught with drugs for personal use to get charged as dealers, even if they were not involved in selling at all.”
The Drug Policy Alliance said it “believes it is time to rethink the ‘drug dealer.’” Adding, “We must urgently assess what type of people actually fall into this category and how we as a society can respond to them in ways that will keep people and communities safer and healthier.”