Newsbrief: New Jersey Governor Bypasses Legislature, Okays Needle Exchange Programs By Executive Order 10/29/04

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With the clock ticking down on his scandal-shortened term and frustrated by a recalcitrant legislature, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) Tuesday issued an executive order allowing three Garden State cities to begin needle exchange programs (NEPs) in an effort to stem the spread of HIV and other viruses transmitted through intravenous drug use.

If the move survives threatened court challenges, it will mark the end of a decade-long struggle to bring NEPs to the state, which suffers from one of the highest injection drug-related HIV rates in the country. Although the issue had died down in recent years, it was revived earlier this year, largely thanks to the city councils in Atlantic City and Camden, both of which voted to start NEPs without waiting for new enabling legislation. In both cases, the Drug Policy Alliance's ( New Jersey director, Roseanne Scotti, played a key role by lobbying for the measures and by helping to craft a novel legal argument supporting their establishment.

But after those efforts were challenged by state Attorney General Peter Harvey and knocked down in the court, Scotti and key legislators moved to pass a bill this fall. That effort gained crucial political support when Gov. McGreevey threw his weight behind the effort. McGreevey had previously supported NEPs in principle, but opposed them in practice for what it is now clear were political reasons. After McGreevey decided to resign his office in the wake of scandal, his spokesperson told DRCNet he had changed his position on NEPs because "now it is not about good politics, but about good policy."

The measure sailed through the state's lower chamber, but was stalled in recent weeks in the Senate, forcing the governor's hand. McGreevey cited a public health emergency as the basis of the executive order. It will immediately allow Atlantic City, Camden, and one other New Jersey municipality to set up NEPs. Cities with high rates of HIV infection will have to apply to the state Health Department to start the programs, which have been proven to reduce the spread of AIDS, Hepatitis C, and other blood-borne infections. The order will remain in effect until December 31, 2005.

Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash told the Press of Atlantic City he expected to send an application to the state "immediately" so the program can get underway in a city where one of every 40 residents has HIV. "We worked so hard, we're kind of excited about it," Cash said. "We're thankful the governor has reconsidered, whatever his reason is."

Not everyone was so thankful. Both the New Jersey League of American Families and state Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark) vowed to challenge the order in court. "It is most unfortunate that Gov. McGreevey will use his last days to promulgate something that will lead to the demise of the urban community and especially women and minorities," Rice said. "This is a sad legacy to leave."

With the issuance of McGreevey's executive order, neighboring Delaware becomes the only state in the nation that neither authorizes NEPs nor allows for the sale of needles without a prescription.

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Issue #360, 10/29/04 On the Ballot: Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Sentencing Reform | Marijuana Arrests at All-Time High, Far Exceed Violent Crime Arrests | Latin American Anti-Prohibitionist Umbrella Organization Forms, Eyes UN 2008 Vienna Meeting | African American Professional Groups Move Into Drug Reform Arena | Newsbrief: Former Interpol Chief Calls Prohibition "Obsolete and Dangerous" | Newsbrief: Prohibitionist Bush Supporters "Expose and Oppose" Soros | Newsbrief: New Jersey Governor Bypasses Legislature, Okays Needle Exchange Programs By Executive Order | Newsbrief: Nader Calls on Bush to Grant Clemency to Drug War Prisoners | Newsbrief: Baltimore Cops Offer Minor Drug Suspects Freedom for Guns | Newsbrief: US-Canada Joint Border Drug Threat Assessment Says BC Bud Only Two Percent of US Marijuana Imports | Newsbrief: Fiji Islands in Grip of Reefer Madness | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | This Week in History | The DARE Generation Returns to DC: Students for Sensible Drug Policy 2004 National Conference Next Month | Apply Now to Intern at DRCNet! | Administrative Assistant: Part-Time Job Opportunity at DRCNet | The Reformer's Calendar

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