Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Battle Continues 7/2/04

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There was action on two fronts last week in the battle to bring needle exchange programs (NEPs) to New Jersey, one of only five states that makes possession of a needle without a prescription a crime and, along with neighboring Delaware, one of only two that has failed to pass laws explicitly allowing syringe distribution under some circumstances. The Garden State boasts the nation's fifth-highest rate of HIV infection, with more than half of new infections related to injection drug use.

This spring, thanks in part to a big push from Roseanne Scotti, the Drug Policy Alliance's ( New Jersey point-person, two municipalities, Atlantic City and Camden, began moving to enact municipally-operated NEPs to counter what health officials in both cities have referred to as an AIDS crisis (

Citing Scotti's legal analysis of a 1999 revision of state law, which concluded that municipalities were exempt from the prohibitions on NEPs, the city council in Atlantic City passed a NEP ordinance on June 16. The Camden city council followed suit on June 24.

Camden Waterfront
Both councils acted despite opinions from local prosecutors and state Attorney General Peter Harvey that NEPs remain illegal in New Jersey. While Harvey's office has so far done nothing more than warn ominously that the votes are "under review," Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz this week filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court to block Atlantic City's NEP.

According to Blitz's reading, New Jersey's paraphernalia law forbids the distribution of needles without a prescription, pure and simple. "The law would not permit (the prosecutor) to turn a blind eye to violations of... narcotics paraphernalia offenses which the needle exchange program would generate," Blitz said in court papers.

Atlantic City Solicitor Daniel Gallagher disagreed. "It's going to come down to how the judge interprets the statutes," Gallagher told the Press of Atlantic City. "We believe the statutes can be interpreted to allow municipalities to do this."

Scotti told the Press DPA is putting together a legal team to represent the city if it chooses to fight, and there is every indication it will. Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash, who pushed for the city to approve a NEP, was grateful for the offer of assistance. "We can use all the legal help we can get, particularly people who have dealt with this before," he said.

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Issue #344, 7/2/04 Editorial: Under Its Own Weight | Supreme Court Ruling Portends Massive Changes in Federal Sentencing -- Thousands Could Benefit from Reduced Sentences, Early Releases on Appeal | Federal Judge Declares Sentencing Guidelines Unconstitutional | Supreme Court to Hear Federal Government Appeal in California Medical Marijuana Case | International Anti-Drugs Day Marked by Executions in China, "Revolutionary Justice" in India, Silly Stuff Elsewhere | DRCNet Book Review: "Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000" by Martin Torgoff (Simon & Schuster, 2004, 474 Pages, Notes/Bibliography/Index, $27.95) | Newsbrief: Bill Introduced in Congress Would Mandate Ten Years to Life for Some Marijuana Sales | Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Battle Continues | Newsbrief: Iran Wants to Ban Water Pipes | Newsbrief: European Drug Agency Punctures "Not Your Father's Marijuana" Myth | Newsbrief: North Carolina Supreme Court Settles Dispute, Declares Cocaine Possession Is a Felony | Media Scan: Ethan Nadelmann in National Review | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar
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