California has enacted a new law that permits the state to mandate drug addicts to undergo rehabilitation, a move that critics argue infringes on civil liberties and could potentially worsen the overdose crisis. Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill 43, which broadens the state’s conservatorship laws to include compulsory rehab for individuals who cannot provide for their basic needs due to severe substance abuse or serious mental health conditions.
Previously, conservatorship was only applicable to individuals with mental health disorders. However, the new law extends this to those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, even in the absence of a concurrent mental health condition. Conservatorship is a legal procedure where a court can assign a third party, such as a family member, to oversee an individual’s care, including commitment to mental health facilities.
Newsom’s office stated that conservatorship could help break the cycle of repeated crises, including arrest, imprisonment, psychiatric hospitalization, homelessness, and premature death, and instead provide care that can restore mental health and end the conservatorship. However, critics argue that conservatorships, which strip individuals of their autonomy in making care decisions, can lead to abuse.
The new law also allows the state to pilot “secured residential treatment” in Sacramento and Yolo Counties, offering individuals convicted of drug-related crimes a choice between jail time or a locked rehab facility. However, Jeannette Zanipatin, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance, argues that the laws contradict evidence showing that forced treatment is ineffective and can increase the risk of overdose.
California is now among 38 states that permit some form of involuntary drug treatment. This is a significant shift, given that the state accounts for 30% of the unhoused population in the U.S. Zanipatin expressed disappointment with the new measures, particularly as Newsom vetoed a bill in 2022 that would have allowed safe drug consumption sites in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.
Read more at Vice.