NEEDLE EXCHANGES: Berkeley City Council Wants To Get Around Ban
The Berkeley City Council voted to Tuesday "to explore" methods to legally circumvent the "state law against using tax dollars to buy syringes for needle exchange programs." The Contra Costa Times reports that advocates of legalized needle-exchange programs want the council to end its ban on using the $40,000 that Berkeley provides annually to Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution (NEED) to buy syringes. Councilman Kriss Worthington said, "We're asking the city attorney to research the circumstances under which the city could finance needles." However, "[c]ity officials could find themselves in court" if they go through with the plan, Contra Costa Times reports. In 1996, state Attorney General Dan Lungren (R) "threatened to sue Santa Clara County officials for using public money to finance a needle exchange program, forcing the county to scrap the program."
The Drawing Board
"One idea that has made the rounds through Berkeley is giving the money to an intermediary nonprofit agency, which would then dole it out to NEED to use as it sees fit," Contra Costa Times reports. "Another idea is to remove the ban from the city's contract with NEED and then look the other way if NEED uses the money to buy needles." The city council "has twice before rejected lifting the ban"; however, "this time East Bay attorney Bill Simpich has promised to defend the city for free." Contra Costa Times reports that "many cities, including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, skirt the issue by declaring health emergencies and ignoring the volunteers who hand out needles." The council also asked the city attorney "to explore working with other cities to challenge the law" (Squatriglia, 2/6).