People who use drugs are dying at an unprecedented rate. However, many of these deaths can be prevented. When a person experiencing an opioid overdose is timely treated with naloxone and oxygen the overdose is reversed. Access to a supervised consumption site—a place where people can use pre-obtained drugs in the safety and presence of others—ensures that when a person overdoses, they receive this life-saving treatment. In response to a proposed supervised consumption site in Philadelphia, the Department of Justice sued to prevent it from opening. The government claimed that the facility, called “Safehouse,” would violate 21 U.S.C. § 856(a)(2) which makes it a crime to “manage or control [a] place . . . and knowingly and intentionally . . . make [it] available for use . . . for the purpose of” drug activity. This Note analyzes that case: United States v. Safehouse. In Safehouse, the Third Circuit overturned the district court’s decision and held that supervised consumption sites violate § 856(a)(2). The court’s reasoning, and the opinions of the dissent and the district court, centered around statutory construction and who must act “for the purpose of” drug activity. According to the majority’s construction, Safehouse would violate the statute as long as the participants of the consumption room act with the requisite purpose. According to the dissent and the district court’s construction, it is Safehouse who must act “for the purpose of” drug activity. Based on their construction, both the dissent and the district court determined that Safehouse would not violate the statute because the purpose of a supervised consumption site is to provide access to live-saving medical treatment and to reduce, rather than facilitate, drug use. Although the majority contends that its construction is consistent with the plain meaning of the statute, the dissent and the district court’s alternative construction demonstrates that the statute is ambiguous. This Note argues that the alternative construction is more compelling because the dissent and district court resolve the statute’s ambiguity by looking to the legislative history and in doing so avoid the absurd consequences of the majority’s formalistic and mechanistic interpretation. This Note posits that after Safehouse, there is hope of a supervised consumption site in Maine. More specifically, it argues that, because of the competing constructions of § 856(a)(2), a proposed supervised consumption site might not be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine or could find success in the First Circuit.
Jeff P. Sherman,
United States v. Safehouse: The Future of Supervised Consumption Sites in Maine and Beyond,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol74/iss2/7