Bill to allow ‘safe use’ sites in Colorado fails at state legislature

The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck/via AP
Registered nurse Sammy Mullally holds a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., May 11, 2011.

A bill that would have made Colorado the first state in the country to allow facilities for supervised illegal drug use has failed at the state legislature.

House Bill 1202 would have given local governments the power to permit what it described as "overdose prevention centers," where people could have used illicit drugs under medical supervision.

A Senate hearing for the measure Wednesday evening opened with one of the committee members, Democratic state Sen. Kyle Mullica, asking for the bill to be tabled permanently. Mullica said he’d spoken to the bill’s sponsors but did not discuss their thinking in agreeing to drop the bill.

The move was met with disappointment by some of the panel’s Democratic members.

“Communities are in need. Our community was well on its way to putting science behind its health care policy and this is a tool that would help so many people,” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Boulder County. “We’re really missing the boat here.”

Newly released data from Denver shows 453 people died of overdoses in the city last year, a slight decline from 2021. CDC data from 2021, the most recent year available, found 1,887 drug fatalities in the state as a whole. Drug deaths are a big contributor to a historic drop in the state’s life expectancy. Supporters argue allowing people to use under supervision could help prevent overdoses, as well as potentially connecting them to help for their addiction.

Denver approved a pilot injection site four years ago, but can’t open it unless the state grants approval.

While the bill cleared the state House by a wide margin, it was highly controversial as it moved through the legislature, with opponents arguing safe use sites would send the message that the government supports drug use and could pose risks to surrounding neighborhoods.

The bill would have “misused tax dollars to facilitate the use of illicit drugs and extended the nightmare for those struggling with drug addiction,” said House Minority Leader Mike Lynch in a statement.

No state currently allows safe use sites, although New York City recently opened two locations without state approval. Last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed three cities to pilot supervised use sites.

Gov. Jared Polis had signaled he might similarly have vetoed the Colorado bill, had it reached his desk. Shortly after the bill was introduced, a spokesman for the governor said: “While he has not seen this particular legislative proposal, he would be deeply concerned with any approach that would contribute to more drug use and lawlessness.”

According to lobbying records, the bill was opposed by the county sheriffs association and several local governments, including the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora. It was supported by a number of medical groups and addiction treatment providers as well as the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials.