Gavin Newsom says California lawmaker made ‘big mistake’ killing a drug bill. Why did it die?

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said it was a “huge mistake” for a lawmaker to kill a bill restricting access to a sedative gaining traction as a street drug.

The governor’s office has indicated the administration could get involved in ensuring the measure’s success.

“I felt it a huge mistake that a member of the Legislature killed the tranq bill, the xylazine bill,” Newsom said. “That was a big mistake. So I’m very active in that respect.”

Newsom didn’t name the lawmaker. Assembly Public Safety Committee Chair Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, last week held a bill that would reschedule xylazine, also known as ‘tranq,’ at the state level, making it harder for people to obtain.

The governor made his comments during a heat wave and wildfire readiness press event in Sacramento County.

Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer that some drug users have begun mixing with other substances, including fentanyl, according to the California Department of Public Health. Some people also unknowingly ingest xylazine that has been cut into another drug. Xylazine can increase the risk of overdoses and cause serious skin wounds and infections.

The Department of Public Health in 2023 called xylazine “a new and emerging issue in California” and said it wasn’t common in the state’s drug supply, although experts were concerned that it may eventually become part of it.

The xylazine measure Newsom likely referenced is Senate Bill 1502, from another Sacramento Democrat, Sen. Angelique Ashby. Her bill would make xylazine a Schedule III drug under California’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

However, McCarty and the committee asked Ashby to change her bill to make xylazine a controlled substance only if the federal government first takes similar action.

She declined, and the committee held her bill. The Public Safety Committee hearing for Ashby’s bill occurred on July 2, right before a policy committee deadline and the Legislature’s month-long recess.

The Sacramento Bee has reached out to McCarty’s office for a comment on SB 1502. It has not provided one.

Neither McCarty nor anyone on the committee explained why they wanted the changes. The staff analysis for SB 1502 recommended them because California “generally aligns” its drug schedule with that of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.

Xylazine remains unscheduled at the federal level, although lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House are pushing legislation to make it a controlled substance.

The future of SB 1502 remains unclear. The committee also required Assemblywoman Jasmeet Bains, D-Delano, to accept the same changes on a similar bill in April. But, Ashby said, Bains’ bill also does other things. SB 1502 is focused almost solely on xylazine scheduling.

Newsom called for a bill on xylazine in November. Ahead of the press conference, Newsom spokeswoman Tara Gallegos said the legislation “is too important to be held up.”

“We will work with the Legislature to ensure this measure moves forward,” she said in a statement.

Ashby said she’s not sure what will happen with her bill in the future, but she found the changes McCarty requested “perplexing.”

“The people of California care about doing something about the drug crisis in front of us,” she said. “I feel like they’ve been pretty fervent in their expectation that we do everything that we can to address these things that are going on with fentanyl. And tranq is a big piece of it.”

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