Newsbrief: Local Prosecutor Tries to Block Atlantic City Needle Exchange, Would Be New Jersey's First 5/14/04

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A pioneering effort by officials in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to start the state's first needle exchange program (NEP) has been challenged by Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz, the Press of Atlantic City reported Wednesday. Although the state has no law allowing NEPs, which seek to reduce HIV and Hep C infection rates by reducing needle sharing among drug users, Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford last month gave the city health department the okay for an NEP using mobile vans.

Faced with the state's highest rate of HIV infection among black males, Mayor Langford sought a legal way to start such a program. According to the Press, Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey Director Roseanne Scotti alerted Langford to an obscure 1999 amendment to the criminal code that, according to her analysis, exempts governmental agencies from the state law that makes needle possession a crime.

But Prosecutor Blitz, who learned of the planned city-operated NEP by reading the Press, reacted quickly. On April 30, four days after the first Press article appeared, he notified Atlantic City officials that he had reviewed the law and found it allowed government agencies to distribute needles only to people with prescriptions. "There is no authority for programs to place needles and syringes in the hands of people addicted to heroin," Blitz said Tuesday. "This is a program that has to be considered by the Legislature."

Blitz's opinion contradicts that of Atlantic City Solicitor Beverly Graham-Foy, who had reviewed the law at Mayor Langford's request and found it did allow the city to operate a program. And needle exchange law expert Temple University professor Scott Burris told the Press Blitz was wrong. The amendment clearly exempts local governments, he said. "I'd be happy to be their lawyer," Burris said. "You never know, 100%, what a court is going to do. But I think the city has an extremely strong case."

Mayor Langford and his administration appear committed to starting an NEP, even if it means a court challenge. "We're still planning on moving forward," Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash told the Press. "There are some legal challenges we need to address."

New Jersey still awaits its first sanctioned needle exchange project. In the meantime, the state Health Department reports that 46% of all new HIV cases in the state are caused by shared needles. That number rises to more than half of all new cases in Atlantic City.

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Issue #337, 5/14/04 Editorial: Always Another Angle | Russia Enacts Sweeping Reforms in Drug Laws: No Jail for Possession | Maryland Treatment Not Jail Bill Signed Into Law | Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dying as Government Prepares to Call Elections, Few Mourners | Calls for Sentencing Reform Grow in Arizona | Announcing: "The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War" -- New Compendium by Sheriff Masters Features David Borden and Numerous Other Thinkers on Drug Policy | Newsbrief: Local Prosecutor Tries to Block Atlantic City Needle Exchange, Would Be New Jersey's First | Newsbrief: Pennsylvania Attorney General Hops on Prescription Drug Abuse Bandwagon | Newsbrief: Ohio Appeals Court Upholds City's Harsh Marijuana Penalties | Newsbrief: Congress Defeats Effort to Abolish Cap on US Troops in Colombia | Newsbrief: Anti-Drug Ads Pique Curiosity, Researcher Finds | Newsbrief: Alcohol Prohibition Coming to Nigerian State | Newsbrief: Study Finds "No Increased Risk" for Marijuana-Using Drivers | Newsbrief: Hip-Hop Summit Announces Mass Rally Against Drug War at GOP Convention | Newsbrief: Finnish Green MP Causes Flap with Admission of Cannabis Use | Newsbrief: Million Marijuana Marches, Continued -- Rocking in Rosario, Repression in Russia and Israel | This Week in History | Job Opportunity: Program Coordinator, International Harm Reduction Development Program, OSI | The Reformer's Calendar
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