WSANA Talks about SIFs, State Legislation and Marijuana

State legislation was on the mind at the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) on Tuesday night, July 24, particularly a new item in the state Opioid legislation that potentially calls for the study or implementation of Safe Injection Sites (SIFs).

SIFs have been a major issue in WSANA and the South End, as many believe that the state’s first pilot SIF could be located in the WSANA area – particularly at the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless facility. SIFs are still illegal in the United States, and the US Attorney for Massachusetts has said his office would shut down any SIFs that try to open.

“Supervised injection facilities would violate federal laws prohibiting the use of illicit drugs and the operation of sites where illicit drugs are used and distributed,” read a statement from the U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling last week. “Employees and users of such a site would be exposed to federal criminal charges regardless of any state law or study. I cannot envision any scenario in which sites that normalize intravenous use of heroin and fentanyl would be off limits to federal law enforcement efforts.”

In any case, the state legislature has been flirting with the idea throughout the State Budget season and in the runup to the end of its formal session on July 31. At the forefront is the wide-ranging opiate legislation that is circulating in both houses. Each has a different version and each has included language regarding SIFs. No one is certain what will happen with the final bill, but a conference committee is expected to have significant differences to work out – if in fact they get the opportunity to hash out those differences.

State Rep. Byron Rushing does support SIFs, but has vocally said he would not support the pilot program going into the South End or Roxbury where there are already a plethora of services and the area has become the epicenter of the opiate crisis.

WSANA hasn’t opposed SIFs in general, but they have opposed siting one in their general area.

“Mass. Medical put out a position paper in 2017 that said the SPOT program at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless would be a great place for a pilot,” said Desi Murphy. “We have reason to be concerned because of that.”

Resident Andy Brand said he would support SIFs if they were all over the state, but he cannot support having the only one in the South End at the epicenter of the opiate crisis.

“If everyone across the state had them, I wouldn’t oppose one here,” he said. “But to have the first and only one in the state right here, I would certainly oppose that.”

Vice President Bob Minnocci said he would not support a SIF anywhere.

“I would not support one at all,” he said.

In the House’s version of the bill, the language calls for a study of the issue with an appointed committee that includes Mayor Martin Walsh. Walsh has been ardently against SIFs in any form for some time, and doesn’t believe they are the right way to fight the epidemic.

In any case, nothing has been worked out yet, and the language in both houses could die in the final bill.

In any case, WSANA agreed to watch the matter carefully over the next month or so.

  • On another note, a marijuana dispensary proposal is real and moving through the process at 591 Albany St. – in a building next to the closed-up B’Hai Center.

The proposal has grabbed the attention of many in the neighborhood, and WSANA folks said they had only just heard about it. The address is officially in Blackstone Franklin Square Neighborhood Association.

There are many in WSANA who would oppose such a measure, but outside WSANA some of the thinking is that some strategy needs to be considered given the half-mile buffer zone between facilities.

Already, the Newmarket Business Association has said that a growing and processing facility has been proposed for Hampden and Kimball streets. There would be no retail or medical sales at the facility. The Association would like support that measure.

That blocks out several proposals lingering for the WSANA area, but does not block out Albany Street.

Some are thinking that the Albany Street proposal might be preferable to the Compassionate Organics plan for 633 Tremont St. Both cannot exist given the buffer zone.

At the moment, getting a site for marijuana is a little like the rush for oil leases in 1930s California.

•WSANA members voted 9-0 to approve a new iron back deck configuration at 13-15 Worcester Square. The deck proposal is the result of a two-year odyssey with a bad contractor, the owners said. The previous deck was taken down during a brick re-pointing project, but it never got replaced. Now, the owners wish to replace it, but with decks that run the full 24-foot length of the condo building on the second and third floors. It is expected to be a six-week construction project.

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