A plan that was announced last fall to begin prosecuting fentanyl dealers for homicide in cases of fatal overdoses is moving forward, and a law enforcement task force dedicated to the project is set to launch soon.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and several of Breed's rivals in this year's mayor's race all took part in a rally Monday at City Hall to re-announce these plans, and to reiterate city leaders' commitment to tackling the fentanyl crisis.

"The reason why I’ve given clear direction to be much more aggressive in tackling this problem has a lot to do with the loss of life, and also the violence surrounding the drug market," says Breed, who lost a sister to an overdose two decades ago, speaking to the Los Angeles Times. "Because of the number of overdoses, and because it’s directly linked to the drugs, there needs to be a link to the people who are selling this poison that is actually killing people."

Jenkins spoke to NBC Bay Area Monday night, saying that the city will take a "targeted approach" and police will try to gather evidence, when they can, to link an overdose death to a street-level fentanyl seller.

"We have to address this at all levels — we can’t simply ignore the people that are out on our streets selling death while we only go after suppliers," Jenkins told the station. "We have to be attacking this on all fronts, and that’s what we’re doing."

As the LA Times notes, this initiative is something of a sea-change for liberal San Francisco, which has been a punching bag of right-wing media for years for having policies that are too lax when it comes to the drug trade. And thus far, it's been more "red" counties in California, like Riverside County, where there has been a push to charge fentanyl dealers with homicide.

Prosecutors in Riverside now have 34 such cases against dealers, per the LA Times, but getting convictions will be an uphill battle in many cases. It will fall on prosecutors to convince juries that dealers knew a particular drug sale could result in death. And defense attorneys will likely use a host of strategies to distance street-level dealers from the product they sell — trying to convince juries, for instance, as has been the case in some successful defenses in San Francisco, that dealers themselves are being trafficked and coerced into dealing.

Two weeks before San Francisco and Governor Gavin Newsom announced the joint task force on prosecuting dealers back in October, California saw its first sentencing of a fentanyl provider on a homicide charge. That was a case out of Placer County, and a 21-year-old man was sentenced to 15 years for second-degree murder, stemming from the overdose death of his 15-year-old girlfriend Jewels Wolf, in June of 2022. The man, Nathaniel Cabacungan, was convicted last July, in a case that did not involve a street-level dealer — Cabacungan simply gave his girlfriend an M-30 pill, thought to be oxycodone, that turned out to be fake and laced with fentanyl.

Investigating street-level dealers will involve an entirely different kind of effort. As the LA Times reports, "Such cases hinge on time-consuming investigations... Investigators dig through cellphone records, text messages, social media accounts and other communications in search of evidence that a dealer knew the product was dangerous."

And then defense attorneys will dig into victims' histories — had they overdosed previously? Did they know people who had? In the case of hard-core addicts, it's not going to be easy to convince a jury that a homicide has occurred.

But does this expensive and arduous process actually yield results, when it comes to deterring other dealers from replacing the ones who were arrested? Or is this more just political grandstanding?

Arguing that it's the latter, we had mayoral hopefuls Ahsha Safai, Daniel Lurie, and Mark Ferrell all taking part in Monday's rally — though it's not clear where they all stand on the homicide-prosecution issue. All three, as well as Breed and Jenkins, want to appear tough on crime in this election year.

And even if SF succeeds in successfully prosecuting one fentanyl dealer for homicide, the results of that prosecution won't come until this election is long over — so this could just be a whole lot of talk. But, cynically speaking, the DA's office will likely be on the lookout for a case to make hay of, involving a seemingly "innocent" victim, like the 15-year-old in Placer County, where the link to a person who gave or sold them fentanyl is crystal clear.

Termed-out Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who is serving her last year representing the Mission District, tells the LA Times, "A purely punitive approach, it just doesn’t work. If it would have worked, it would have worked over the past 100 years."

Previously: Gavin Newsom Joins Chorus of Lawmakers Calling for Fentanyl Dealers to Be Charged With Murder For Overdoses

Photo: US Border Patrol