Feds' Response to Denver's Safe-Use Site Plan: Weak, Toothless, Mega-Stupid

Injection booths at Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver visited by a delegation from Denver in January.
Injection booths at Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver visited by a delegation from Denver in January. Facebook
A joint statement released on December 4 by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado and the Drug Enforcement Administration regarding what's described as "Denver’s Proposal to Create Supervised Locations to Inject Heroin and Other Illegal Drugs" was clearly meant to undermine the project. Instead, the momentum for a safe-use site in the Mile High City is likely to increase, thanks to a document that's more political than legal and uses the same tired assertions that have made the War on Drugs a losing battle for decades.

After the release was made public, Westword reached out several times to Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for recently named U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, a former member of Denver's powerful Brownstein Hyatt law firm, but we have not yet received a reply. So we'll let the text of the feds' statement about the Denver proposition (which needs approval from the Colorado Legislature before it can take effect) speak for itself — and then take on the points one by one.

The Introduction: The Denver City Council recently passed an ordinance that proposes establishing supervised use sites, where drug users would be allowed to lawfully inject heroin and other illegal drugs in a facility operated by a governmental organization or a nonprofit. This proposal still has a number of steps to go before it becomes a reality. In the meantime, there are a few things Coloradans should know.

Our take: Nothing inherently false yet. But get ready.

Attack one: Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well.

Our take: You know what else is against federal law? The possession, use and sale of marijuana. And unless we're very much mistaken, all of those things are happening in Colorado and a slew of other states across the country right now, despite nearly identical warnings from various law enforcers in the administration of President Donald Trump. As for the use of the word "likely" in the last sentence: Don't you guys know for sure? Couldn't you have had an intern look it up for you?
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts