California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered mixed support on Monday for efforts to help injection-drug users protect themselves against HIV infections by signing a bill allowing over-the-counter sales of syringes but vetoing a bill that would have made it easier to operate needle exchanges in the state. The approved bill allows cities and counties in the state to permit pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes to an adult without a prescription. California had been one of only five states to prohibit such sales.
Cities and counties in the state are currently allowed to operate needle-exchange programs to reduce needle sharing among injection-drug users by declaring a public-health emergency every two weeks. The bill Schwarzenegger vetoed would have eliminated the requirement to frequently renew the emergency declaration. Lawmakers said the measure would have reduced the amount of red tape to operate needle exchanges in the state, and some communities said they would implement exchange programs if the requirements had been eased. The governor said he vetoed the bill because the current law "ensures that local government and local public-health officials review the status of the syringe-exchange program when deciding to continue the program."