District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey has a hunch that people are coming from out of town to buy or sell illegal drugs in SF, and is asking the City Controller for an analysis of the home addresses of those arrested to see how many are from other cities and countries.
We’re a little over six months into SF’s purported fentanyl crackdown that’s brought in the California Highway Patrol and SF Sheriff’s deputies to combat what they call “open-air drug markets,” and last month Mayor Breed’s office touted hundreds having been arrested in these enhanced law enforcement operations. Yet despite this, 2023 still saw more overdose deaths than any other year (mostly from fentanyl), so obviously, city officials are still scrambling for solutions.
One repeated refrain from many officials is that people are coming from out of town to buy or sell drugs here, which they’ve been describing with the phrase “drug tourism.” This is political messaging, and not a technical law enforcement term. But Supervisor Matt Dorsey, whose SoMa district sure sees its share of the fentanyl trade, is now demanding a report on so-called drug tourism from the City Controller’s office, according to the Chronicle, to ascertain how many people arrested for using or dealing drugs in San Francisco are not actually from San Francisco.
For years, we have known about the phenomenon of San Francisco being such a destination city for drug tourism and public benefits through anecdotal evidence — including a nationally televised CNN special in May 2023 that reported, “Notably, no one was from San Francisco.” (2/4) pic.twitter.com/zQT4Elv6i5— Matt Dorsey (@mattdorsey) February 1, 2024
There’s certainly anecdotal evidence to back up Dorsey’s suspicion. In the above tweet, Dorsey cites a CNN segment where reporter Sara Sidner interviewed several unhoused drug users in Dorsey’s district, and observed “No one was from San Francisco.”
And back in June, SFPD Chief Bill Scott told the SF Police Commission that out of 45 then-recent arrests for drug sales or use, “only three out of 45 [suspects] list San Francisco as their address.”
“The report I’m requesting from the City Controller is necessary to more accurately quantify the extent to which San Francisco is a destination city for open-air drug scenes and related public nuisances, as well as for those who avail themselves of general assistance for indigent adults,” Dorsey said in a press release. “Apart from quantifying the phenomenon, another benefit this report will offer is better visibility into relevant individuals’ counties and states of origin, which may reveal patterns that merit further investigation.”
If people are just coming from Oakland to buy or sell drugs in San Francisco, I’m not sure that’s necessarily “drug tourism,” and may be more of a “drug commute.” But we don’t know if it’s just people from Oakland, and Dorsey may have a point when he refers to patient-dumping scandals where other states or municipalities simply ship mentally ill or unhoused people to San Francisco.
But note also that Dorsey’s quote calls out “those who avail themselves of general assistance.” That seems to target people receiving welfare-type benefits, along the lines of Mayor Breed’s ballot measure to require drug screening to get welfare benefits.
That targeting of poor people, and the lack of a component to prevent overdose deaths, is giving critics of Dorsey’s idea some fodder.
“Even if this report came out and said ‘this many people came from out of town,’ how would you know that they didn’t come here for another reason?” Treatment on Demand Coalition coordinator Sara Shortt told the Chronicle. “Focusing on this question so heavily is barking up the wrong tree at a time when we need to be entirely focused on the correct tree, which is providing overdose prevention centers, drop-in care, sobering centers and housing.”
According to KTVU, Dorsey will likely get his report “within the next couple of months,” and he says he will want those numbers updated and reported every year.
Image: @mattdorsey via Twitter