Federal judge sets legal precedent in favor of safe injection sites

While rumors have circulated among the community that the first safe injection site - if it ends up happening - could end up in Kensington, Safehouse has yet to decide where its initial site would go.

Safehouse President Jose Benitez and Vice President Ronda Goldfein speak at an April Harrowgate Civic Association meeting.

In a big win for the pro-safe injection sites community in Philadelphia, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that Safehouse’s proposed opening of a safe injection site does not violate the Controlled Substances Act, setting a precedent and paving the way for a potential safe injection site in Philadelphia. 

Section 856(a)(2) of the Controlled Substances Act, which is known colloquially as the “Crack House Statute,” was the specific part of the act in question.

“I find that the purpose at issue under [section] 856 must be a significant purpose to facilitate drug use, and that allowance of some drug use as one component of an effort to combat drug use will not suffice to establish a violation of [section] 856(a)(2),” reads part of the conclusion written by Judge Gerald Austin McHugh. “The ultimate goal of Safehouse’s proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it, and accordingly, [section] 856(a) does not prohibit Safehouse’s proposed conduct.”

The statute within the Controlled Substances Act reads as follows: “It shall be unlawful to manage or control any place, whether permanently or temporarily, either as an owner, lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee, and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or without compensation, the place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”

The safe injection site would allow drug users to consume opioid-based drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who are trained to reverse opioid-induced overdoses with naloxone, potentially saving lives.

“[T]he Department of Justice remains committed to preventing illegal drug injection sites from opening,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain, whose office filed the case earlier this year. “Today’s opinion is merely the first step in a much longer legal process that will play out. This case is obviously far from over. We look forward to continuing to litigate it, and we are very confident in our legal position.”

The Star reached out to Safehouse for comment, but it has not immediately responded.

While rumors have circulated among the community that the first safe injection site – if it ends up happening – could end up in Kensington, Safehouse has yet to decide where its initial site would go.