Appellate Court Agrees with Government that Supervised Injection Sites are Illegal under Federal Law; Reverses District Court Ruling

In a precedential opinion, the Third Circuit ruled yesterday that it is a federal crime to open a supervised injection site or “consumption room” for illegal drug use.  Local nonprofit Safehouse planned to open the nation’s first such consumption room in the City of Philadelphia, where individuals would be invited to inject heroin and use other drugs under supervision.  But the Third Circuit ruled that doing so “will break the law” because Safehouse knows and intends that visitors to its consumption room will have a significant purpose of using illegal drugs.  In agreeing with the government’s interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, the Court explained that, “[t]hough the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law.”

“The Court’s decision re-affirms that ‘safe’ injection sites are a violation of federal law,” said Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.  “The Department supports efforts to curb the opioid crisis ravaging this country, but injection sites are not the solution.  There are more productive ways to address drug abuse, and today’s ruling by the Third Circuit has confirmed that these sites are illegal and therefore not the answer.”

“The rule of law is still alive and well in Philadelphia – having been re-affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which held that it is a federal crime to open a heroin injection site or ‘consumption room’ for illegal drug use,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain.  “The Third Circuit’s opinion is a faithful reading of the statute’s plain language and is consistent with Congress’s intent to protect American neighborhoods from the scourge of concentrated drug use.”

The Controlled Substances Act prohibits any person from knowingly and intentionally maintaining a place for the purpose of illegal drug use. In this appeal, the Government argued that if Safehouse opens a consumption room, knowing and intending that drug users will inject heroin there, Safehouse will break the law. The Court agreed with the Government, holding that Safehouse will violate the law because people will visit its facility with the purpose of using drugs. As the Court explained, though Safehouse will provide other services, “Safehouse’s main attraction is its consumption room.”  The Court also held that Safehouse itself has the purpose that visitors use drugs within its “consumption room.” As the Government has argued throughout this suit, it defied logic to suggest that a so-called “consumption room” is not intended to be a place where people consume drugs.

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Author: January 13, 2021

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