Newsbrief: New Jersey Lawmakers to Ask Court to Stop Needle Exchange Programs 12/17/04

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http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/367/njneps.shtml

The battle over needle exchange programs (NEPs) continues in New Jersey. After a decade of struggle to legalize the practice, which has repeatedly been shown to reduce the rate of spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis C among injection drug users, outgoing Gov. James McGreevey bypassed a recalcitrant legislature and okayed the practice by executive order last month (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/360/njneps.shtml).

Late last week, three legislators vowed to go to court to block McGreevey's order. The lawsuit, which will be filed by Sens. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Tom Kean (R-Union) and Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris), will argue that McGreevey exceeded his powers by granting the executive order. McGreevey's order declared that the spread of AIDS via needle-sharing was a "public health emergency," and would allow cities like Atlantic City and Camden to establish NEPs to get clean needles to addicts.

"He overstepped his bounds," Pennacchio told reporters on December 10. The legislators will argue that McGreevey had no right to issue the order without the legislature's approval. Inspired by the efforts of Atlantic City and Camden to enact NEPs to reduce the AIDS rate in their hard-hit communities, a bill to allow NEPs in the state passed the Assembly earlier this year, but died in the Senate.

"The governor in signing that executive order exceeded his authority," said Michael Laffey, the attorney representing the lawmakers. "He usurped the power of the legislature."

Although New Jersey has one of the nation's highest injection-related AIDS infection rates, the legislators scoffed at the notion it constituted an emergency under the state's Disaster Control Act. "It's not an emergency," Pennacchio said. "Cars not being able to get through on the roads, that's an emergency."

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Issue #367 -- 12/17/04

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