Gavin Newsom says a California lawmaker made a ‘big mistake’ by killing a drug bill. Why was it killed?

Governor of California. Gavin Newsom On Wednesday, a lawmaker said he had made a “big mistake” in rejecting a bill that would restrict access to a sedative that was gaining ground as a street drug.

The governor’s office has indicated that the administration could get involved to ensure the success of the measure.

“I think it was a huge mistake for a member of the Legislature to kill the tranquilizer bill, the xylazine bill,” Newsom said. “It was a huge mistake. That’s why I’m very active in that regard.”

Newsom did not mention the lawmaker by name. Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, last week introduced a bill that would reclassify xylazine, also known as “tranq,” at the state level, making it harder to obtain.

“Our Assembly Public Safety Committee has been very aggressive this year in passing more than a dozen bills to combat drug trafficking and increase penalties for the sale of illicit drugs, including fentanyl and tranquilizers,” McCarty said in a statement. “We have passed more important drug bills this year than in more than a decade.”

The governor made his comments during a press event on heat wave and wildfire preparedness 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 mixed with another drug. Xylazine can increase the risk of overdose and cause serious skin wounds and infections.

In 2023, the Department of Public Health called xylazine “a new and emerging problem in California” and said it was not common in the state’s drug supply, though experts were concerned it could eventually become part of it.

The xylazine measure Newsom likely referred to is Senate Bill 1502, by another Sacramento Democrat, Sen. Angelique AshbyHis bill would make xylazine a Schedule III drug under California’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

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

She refused, and the committee held up her bill. The Public Safety Committee hearing on Ashby’s bill took place on July 2, just before the policy committee’s deadline and the Legislature’s month-long recess.

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

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

The future of SB 1502 remains uncertain. The committee also called on Assemblywoman Jasmeet Bains, D-Delano, to agree to the same changes in a similar bill in April. But, Ashby said, Bains’ bill does other things, too. SB 1502 focuses almost exclusively on the classification of xylazine.

McCarty in his statement noted that the committee had moved forward with the Bains measure with changes “to bring it into line with the federal Controlled Substances Act.”

Newsom called in November for passage of a xylazine bill. Before the press conference, Newsom spokeswoman Tara Gallegos said the legislation “is too important to delay.”

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

Ashby said she’s not sure what will happen to her bill going forward, but found the changes McCarty requested “disconcerting.”

“The people of California are interested in doing something to address the drug crisis that we have before us,” he said. “I think they’ve been pretty fervent in their expectation that we do everything we can to address these issues that are happening with fentanyl. And tranquilizers are a big part of that.”