U.S. News

01.31.14

Clean Crack Pipes for All! San Francisco’s Final Social Justice Frontier

If you’re the enterprising activist type, what do you do in a city where every last pet cause has been adopted? Champion free drug paraphernalia, obviously.

Pity the progressive activist in San Francisco who yearns to champion a new cause.

The city itself is so progressive that onetime “don’t ask, don’t tell” military recruiters are among the million plus people who now attend its annual gay pride march. And activists have already seized upon seemingly every possible issue, from economic inequality to homelessness to workers rights to climate change.

How do you top those stalwart souls who block the way of the Google buses that ferry its workers to Silicon Valley? Or a program that seeks to deter panhandling and save pups bound for death at the pound by paying the homeless a stipend to tend to an otherwise unwanted dog? Or a group that wants to put cigarette-type warning labels on gasoline pumps, cautioning that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming?

When it comes to recycling, the city has already banned plastic bags, starting with grocery stores and pharmacies in 2007, then retail shops and restaurants in 2013. As for pollution, the city has “Spare the Air” days when it is illegal to burn wood of solid fuels in fireplaces.

Public nudity is a continuing controversy, but how to do you top a couple who get themselves arrested while getting married naked at City Hall?

As for the workplace, the city is contemplating a measure that would give employees the right to ask that their schedule be made flexible to accommodate their lifestyle. (Try that in, say, an auto body shop in the Bronx.)

With regards to child nutrition, a company had no sooner marketed an energy drink for kids than San Francisco filed suit to stop it.

There are so many progressives in San Francisco that other progressives have to stay on their toes.

In fact, there are so many progressives in San Francisco that other progressives have to stay on their toes.

The beggars and pups program drew fire from animal rights activists who worried the foster dogs might be mistreated.

An advertising campaign about sugary drinks and childhood obesity was criticized after a woman noticed that the kids in the ads had been Photoshopped to look fatter than they actually are.

But, as the crinkled and upturned noses of the techie rich attest, the city has an abundance of street people. And that would suggest ample opportunities for a progressive.

When it comes to heroin users, the city has long since progressed to exchanging clean hypodermic needles for used ones, at the rate of 2.7 million a year.

But there are also crack heads, and in recent days a progressive came with what seemed at first to be an actual new idea:

Distribute clean crack pipes!

The activist behind it is Isaac Jackson of the Urban Survivors Network. He is apparently the same gentleman who appears in a recent YouTube video about the drug war.

“The drug war is a big hindrance to my freedom,” he says in the video. “It tells my what to do with my body even though my body says that what I'm doing is OK most of the time.”

He adds, “I think it’s a big drag. People I don’t know telling me when my highs should be, when my lows should be. I think that is a bit much.”

Jackson, who was not reachable for comment on Thursday, has told reporters that he himself is a former crack smoker and a current intravenous drug user. He suggests that the pipe giveaway would not only prevent cut lips, but would also help prevent the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis C.

The city initially seemed open to at least entertaining the idea, but has since come out against it. The top San Francisco health official, Barbara Garcia, told a reporter, "That recommendation has not come to me. And I'm telling you that if it did, I would say 'absolutely no, we are not going to distribute crack pipes.'”

And she did not stop there.

“We have a lot of things to consider for those who are using crack for improving their health,” she went on to say. “And the distribution of crack pipes is not something I'm going to consider."

In true activist tradition such as displayed by the nude newlyweds, Jackson has announced plans to go ahead with the giveaway even though it may violate law against possessing narcotics paraphernalia. He figures on starting in early March, likely in Hemlock Alley, off Polk Street, near a present needle exchange. He has said that an anonymous donor has contributed “seed money” and he is presently looking for “avenues of funding.”

Sadly, even if the money comes through, Jackson will only be following the lead of a program in Seattle that has been distributing crack pipes and needles since 2010. Seattle, it seems, may be an even tougher place than San Francisco to be a progressive activist who does not want to be just a follower.

But probably not.