Ting adds sunsetto safe syringe bill
by Matthew S. Bajko
In response to concerns from law enforcement officials, state Assemblyman Phil Ting has added a sunset clause to his bill allowing pharmacists throughout the state to sell syringes without a prescription to adults.
Under current California law, pharmacists are allowed to sell up to 30 syringes without a prescription. But the legislation is set to sunset on January 1, and without lawmakers extending the law, syringe sales would remain legal in just 15 counties and four cities, including San Francisco.
Initially, Ting (D-San Francisco) had written his Assembly Bill 1743, the Safe Syringe Access Act, without a sunset date in it. He also removed the cap placed on the number of syringes a person could buy at one time.
His intention was to make over the counter syringe sales "a permanent part" of public health strategy in the state, as he stressed in a summary about the bill.
Yet after public safety groups expressed concerns about the lack of an expiration date for the legislation, Ting added a five-year sunset to his bill in order to clear its path for adoption. The bill would still remove the current cap of 30 syringes per sale.
"We had some nominal law enforcement opposition, so we worked with them to get their opposition off," Ting told the Bay Area Reporter in an interview last week. "If we didn't do something and the law sunsetted, we would be one of only three states in the country not doing this. We aren't innovating here, we are lagging on this issue."
In April, the Assembly passed AB 1743, without the inclusion of the sunset clause, by a vote of 46-26. It is expected the state Senate will take up the bill the first week of August, and if adopted, the Assembly will then need to vote on it again due to the change. It would then be sent to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.
Health officials and AIDS advocates support supplying clean syringes to intravenous drug users as a preventative measure to reduce the spread of HIV as well as hepatitis C and B. Both the California Department of Public Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found allowing adults to purchase sterile syringes is an effective tool in stopping the spread of the sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Ting's office, research conducted in California by state health officials found that the rate of syringe sharing in areas where syringe sales without a prescription were authorized "was lower than" areas where syringes were not available over the counter. Adoption of his bill would be "at no cost to the state," noted the bill summary from Ting's office.
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance are the lead sponsors of Ting's bill. Laura Thomas, the Drug Policy Alliance's deputy state director for California, expressed frustration with the need for a sunset in the bill when contacted by the B.A.R. this week.
"It is frustrating we have to continue to take sunsets on the bills. The evidence, research, and experience in California and other states is overwhelming that these programs work," said Thomas. "They are effective and don't increase crime."
Yet the sponsors signed off on the sunset, she said, because they understand "it is part of the compromise of the legislative process."
As of now there is no stated opposition to Ting's revised bill, thus Thomas said she expects it to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the governor.
"I do feel optimistic about this," she said.