Newsbrief: Massachusetts High Court Blocks Arrest of Needle Exchange Participants 12/13/02

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The Massachusetts Superior Judicial Court ruled on December 6 that people enrolled in state-sanctioned needle exchange programs (NEPs) cannot be arrested for carrying clean needles obtained through those programs. The case involved Cambridge NEP client Maria Landry, who was arrested on drug paraphernalia charges in nearby Lynn, which has no such program. Attorneys for Lynn had argued that the city, which they described as fighting a "heroin epidemic," should not be bound to honor NEPs in other jurisdictions. They also argued that even if the court ruled in favor of Landry, police should still be able to arrest people carrying clean syringes since those arrested could argue in court that their membership was a defense to the charge.

But the court was having none of it. Justice Judith Cowan wrote in her ruling that the needles are still part of a state-sanctioned program, even if participants carry them across municipal lines. She also ruled that police officers cannot arrest card-carrying NEP members on paraphernalia charges, unless they suspect that the card is fraudulent.

Under a 1993 law, cities and towns in Massachusetts may host pilot NEPs operated by the Department of Public Health. Four cities -- Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Provincetown -- currently have such programs, serving 3,000 people, according to the department. Some 60% of Massachusetts hepatitis C cases and 42% of HIV/AIDS cases are related to intravenous drug use, the department reported.

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts attorney Sarah Wunsch, who defended Landry, called the ruling a victory. "The court understood the public health issues that were at stake here," she told the Boston Globe.

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Issue #267, 12/13/02 DRCNet Needs Your Help! | Editorial: O, Canada! (Oh, the Embarrassment!) | Canadian House Drugs Committee Calls for Cannabis Decrim, Safe Injection Sites, Heroin Maintenance | Canadian Justice Minister Calls for Cannabis Decrim "Early Next Year" -- US Opposition Could Pose Obstacle | Britain Drops Old Drug Strategy Targets, Goals Were "Not Credible" -- New Strategy a Mixed Bag | Michigan Legislature Repeals Draconian Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences | New Jersey Court Declares State's Civil Forfeiture Funding Scheme Unconstitutional | Newsbrief: Santa Cruz Deputizes Medical Marijuana Providers | Newsbrief: Massachusetts High Court Blocks Arrest of Needle Exchange Participants | Newsbrief: Colombia -- It's Drug War -- No, Oil War -- No, Terror War | Newsbrief: British Ex-Minister Calls Ecstasy Law "An Ass" | Newsbrief: Israeli Green Leaf Party Eyes Knesset Seats | Newsbrief: Illinois Supreme Court Limits Use of Drug Dogs in Traffic Stops | Newsbrief: Paramilitary Drug Raid Tactics Anger Eugene Residents | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: SAMHSA Says Treat Drug Abusers' Mental Illness | Media and Resources: Medical Cannabis Conference Tapes, WOLA Report, Jacob Sullum in Reason, Deborah Saunders in SF Chronicle | Action Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision, Tulia, Salvia Divinorum | The Reformer's Calendar
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