Court sides with Cal Cities: Local law enforcement must be consulted about hypodermic needle exchange programs

Aug 16, 2023

A California Court of Appeal on Monday issued a favorable ruling on a case involving a private hypodermic needle exchange program. In its ruling, the court agreed with an amicus brief filed by the League of California Cities, law enforcement associations, and cities. 

The case centered on whether the State Department of Public Health (CDPH) properly consulted with local law enforcement and provided the public an opportunity to comment before approving such a needle exchange program.

The Cal Cities amicus brief argued that the law requires CDPH to engage in meaningful consultation and collaboration with local law enforcement agencies before approving such programs. CDPH cannot meet the consultation requirement merely by considering email comments from some law enforcement agencies.

Under Health and Safety Code section 121349, CDPH may authorize needle and syringe exchange services in any location with conditions that could lead to the rapid spread of blood-borne viruses through the sharing of used needles and syringes. However, it can only do so after consulting with local law enforcement leadership and after a public comment period.

CDPH approved a needle exchange program in Santa Cruz County with an abbreviated public comment period and without consulting local law enforcement leadership. The Grant Park Neighborhood Association Advocates sued for those deficiencies and others. The trial court ruled in favor of the CDPH, and the neighborhood association appealed. 

The Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s finding and ordered the trial court to grant the neighborhood association’s petition. It found that CDPH failed to engage in the required consultation with law enforcement, failed to provide the required notice to several local police departments, and failed to provide the required time for public comment.

The court held that CDPH’s failures were prejudicial; they impeded the ability of local law enforcement and the public to participate. The decision emphasizes the importance of meaningful state and local government communication before the implementation of new state programs that impact local government.   

For questions about the impact of this ruling on your city, please contact your city attorney.