Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill on Fast Track, Passes First Hurdle 9/24/04

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What a difference a month and a scandal makes. In mid-summer, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey (D) was riding high and opposed needle exchange programs (NEP) in practice, if not in theory. Now, after being forced into resigning his office in November because of scandal, McGreevey has had a change of heart, and the legislature has responded accordingly.

With McGreevey saying he wants a needle exchange bill on his desk before he departs, the Assembly Health Committee Thursday passed the bill after a day of emotional hearings. "We find ourselves today at a critical point in the course of public health in New Jersey. We have the opportunity today to bring into our state proven methods of harm reduction and disease prevention," Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy testified. He and others testified in support of A3256, the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which would permit municipalities to approve NEPs within their jurisdictions. It would also refer injection drug users who participate to health care providers and counselors.

Currently, although New Jersey has the fifth-highest number of AIDS and HIV cases in the US, it is one of only two states that do not explicitly permit NEPs under state law or provide for the sale of syringes without a prescription. Impatient local authorities in Atlantic City and Camden, two areas especially hard-hit by drug-injection related HIV infections, had returned the issue to public attention earlier this year when officials there claimed a statute dealing with municipal health programs authorized them to do so. They were slapped down by a New Jersey Superior Court ruling on September 1.

"Now we move on to the appropriations committee and a floor vote as early as next week," wrote Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey point-person Roseanne Scotti in a message to supporters after the vote. Scotti has played a key role in advancing the issue in the Garden State this year, not only providing a legal analysis that allowed the Atlantic City and Camden city councils to move forward, but also ginning up support among previously reluctant legislators.

But not all of them. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) was impervious to all arguments in favor of NEPS, instead arguing that they constituted something like genocide. "Do like Hitler, give us the gas. Do like Tuskegee, give us the experiment. Do like Jim Jones, give us the Kool-Aid," Rice said.

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Issue #355, 9/24/04 Editorial: The Moral Choice is Clear | With New Sentencing Legislation Pending in Congress, Church Leaders Urge an End to Mandatory Minimums | Patients, Doctors, Supporters Head to Washington to Demand Rescheduling of Marijuana as a Medicine | For Second Year, John W. Perry Fund Helps Students with Drug Convictions Afford College | DRCNet Interview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate | DRCNet Book Review: "Patients in The Crossfire: Casualties in The War On Medical Marijuana," by Americans For Safe Access | Action Alert: Still Time to Contact Judiciary Committee Members About HEA Drug Provision | Newsbrief: Schwarzenegger Signs Syringe Access Bill, Vetoes NEP Bill | Newsbrief: Schwarzenegger Vetoes Bill Barring High School Drug Testing | Newsbrief: New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill on Fast Track, Passes First Hurdle | Newsbrief: Former Child Actor Macauley Culkin Busted for Drugs in All-Too-Typical Cave-In to Police Search Request | Newsbrief: Montel Williams Show Brings Medical Marijuana Issue to the Masses | Newsbrief: Bush Warns of Canada Drug Threat, Whistles Past Afghan Opium Fields | Newsbrief: Guatemala Seeks More Anti-Drug Money from United States | Newsbrief: Decades of Colombian Drug War Brings... New, More Efficient Drug Organizations | Newsbrief: Narc Hates Free Publicity | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: British Drug Policy Think Tank Says Government Abandoned Planned Heroin Maintenance Expansion | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar

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