Burlington City Council briefed on safe injection site legal obstacles

Published: Nov. 10, 2020 at 12:32 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington City Council members Monday said they now have a clearer picture of the federal and state legal challenges they would face in creating a safe injection site.

The council in September voted in favor of a resolution that expresses support for overdose prevention sites and seeks to consider creating one in the Queen City. The sites are for people addicted to drugs to use them under medical supervision. They argue it would help curb drug overdoses.

At Monday’s council meeting, the city’s attorneys explained there are several state and federal laws that pose a legal challenge. One state statute says that no one shall knowingly operate a facility for the purpose of illegally dispensing or selling a regulated drug. Another law prohibits the possession and dispensing of heroin.

At the national level, federal law currently prohibits people from knowingly opening and operating any place for the purpose of distributing or using any controlled substance. Anyone caught in violation of this law could face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $2 million.

The city attorneys say now that under a Biden administration, there will be a new atorney general who could roll back those restrictions. They referred to the Cole Memorandum put in place by the Obama Administration in 2013 that stated the federal government would not enforce federal marijuana prohibition in states that legalized marijuana in some form. The Trump administration rescinded it in 2018.

“It is an interesting-- the two railroad trains connecting here which are the new attorney general and this case will be interesting to watch,” said Justin St. James, the assistant city attorney. "And when President-elect Biden announces the attorney general, a lot of individuals will be watching that as well, but that will happen before a decision is announced certainly.”

Attorneys say the next few months should provide more clarity on how the city will move forward.

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