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The Salt Lake Methamphetamine Conference Gets Underway

EDITOR'S NOTE: I tried to post this Friday morning from the Hilton in Salt Lake City, but due to some mysterious problem with the internets, it didn't get through. The 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis is now in its second day. The Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City is doing an admirable job of dealing with the influx of treatment providers, social service workers, needle exchangers, speed freaks, drug company representatives, academics, researchers, and politicos who have flooded into the hotel for three days of plenaries, panels, workshops, and breakout sessions on various aspects of the methamphetamine phenomenon. For me, a lot of the sessions and presentations are of limited interest, which is not to say they have no value, only that they are directed at people who are doing the hands-on work in the field. As someone interested in drug policy reform and, frankly, legalizing meth and everything else, the differences in behavior or susceptibility to treatment between gay urban speed freaks and rural hetero speed freaks is not really that important to me. Ditto for comparisons of different treatment modalities. Again, I'm not saying this stuff is unimportant, only that it's not what I'm about. I'm much more interested in the politics of meth, the methods of blunting repressive, reactionary responses from the state, and the ways of means of crafting more enlightened policies. For all the progress we have made in the drug reform arena in the past decade or so, it seems like all someone has to do is shout "Meth!" and we are once again in the realm of harsh sentencing, repressive new legislation, and drug war mania reminiscent of the crack days of the 1980s. That's why it's so heartening to see political figures like Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson stand front and center for enlightened responses to meth use and abuse. Of course, it isn't just Rocky. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, state and local officials from the governor on down are attempting a progressive response, whether it's the governor lobbying for more money for treatment or local prosecutors practicing restorative justice. And it's not just Utah. Cut across the Four Corners into New Mexico, and you find another state where officials are rejecting harsh, repressive measures and instead seeking to educate youth and adults alike with evidence-based curricula. As one measure of the changing status quo, the Drug Policy Alliance is getting involved in the Land of Enchantment. It has been selected by the state government to administer a $500,000 grant to develop prevention and education curricula. I find it just a little bit ironic that I'm sitting in Salt Lake at this major meth conference just as SAMSHA puts out an analysis of national survey data showing that meth use is declining after about a decade a stable usage patterns. There was a significant drop in the number of new meth users between 2004 and 2005 and a steady decline in past year meth users since 2002. Despite all the hoopla, meth users now account for only 8% of all drug treatment admissions. Meth crisis? While there is no denying the social and personal problems that can and do result from excessive resort to the stimulant, it seems like there is less to it than meets the eye. Still, it has the politicians and funding agencies riled up enough to cough up money for programs and conferences and the like. I guess we'll take what we can get.
Location: 
Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Brazil Becomes UN Center for Alcohol and Other Drugs Treatment

Location: 
Brazil
Publication/Source: 
Brazzil Magazine
URL: 
http://www.brazzilmag.com/content/view/7813/54/

DPA Press Release: Democratic Majority Has Opportunity to Find Exit Strategy for Failed War on Drugs

[A press release from our friends at Drug Policy Alliance] Democratic Majority Has Opportunity to Find Exit Strategy for Failed War on Drugs Access to Treatment, Reduction of HIV and Drug Overdoses and Tackling Inhumane Mandatory Minimums Now Possible with “New Direction” Dems The Democratic takeover of Congress provides the best opportunity to reform our nation’s failed drug war policies in more than a decade, says the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Moreover, the takeover sets the stage for a showdown between Congress and the Bush Administration over federal raids on medical marijuana patients, military aid to Colombia, and numerous other White House drug policies. “Republicans have incarcerated millions of nonviolent drug law offenders and wasted tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, yet drugs are readily available and the harms associated with them continue to mount,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Democrats need to step up to the plate and prove to Americans that they can do what Republicans couldn’t do: reduce the harms associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs.” Over the last decade, Democrats in Congress supported efforts to reform punitive drug laws and expand opportunities for drug treatment at greater numbers than Republicans. For instance, 144 House Democrats voted earlier this year to prohibit the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws (73 percent of voting Democrats). Only 18 Republicans supported the measure (just 8 percent of voting Republicans). 169 Democrats voted last year to cut funding to the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (more commonly known as “Plan Colombia”). Only 19 Republicans voted to do so. While former Republican committee chairs, such as Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI) and Rep. Mark Souder (IN), have been cheerleaders of draconian legislation, the new Democratic chairs in the new Congress are solid drug policy reformers. Many support reforming mandatory minimum drug sentences, legalizing medical marijuana, eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, diverting nonviolent drug law offenders to drug treatment, and lifting the ban on using federal money for syringe exchange programs. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent, and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse - addiction, overdose, the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, etc - continue to mount. The Drug Policy Alliance urges Democrats to set a “new bottom line” in the government’s approach to drugs and to not repeat the mistakes Republicans made. In a five-point agenda the Drug Policy Alliance offered Democrats advice on how to reduce the harm associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs. Five-point agenda --Hold hearings on the Bush Administration’s failure to protect the American people. President Bush has diverted law enforcement resources away from fighting drug cartels and terrorist cells to arresting medical marijuana patients, doctors, and low-level drug law offenders. His administration’s Reefer-Madness-like obsession with marijuana is largely responsible for our country’s failure to deal adequately with methamphetamine. And the Bush Administration’s radical crop eradication plans in Afghanistan and Colombia are driving poor families into the arms of our enemies, destabilizing those countries and boosting the efforts of those who seek to harm America. --Reprioritize federal law enforcement resources. Democrats should change federal law to prevent the Bush Administration from squandering scarce resources. Most notably, Democrats should prohibit the Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws. They also should raise the threshold amounts of drugs it takes to trigger mandatory minimum drug sentences, in order to encourage the Justice Department to target major drug traffickers. --Make treatment available to all who need it. The quickest, cheapest, and most effective way to undermine drug markets and reduce drug abuse is to make substance abuse treatment available to all who need it, whenever they need it, and as often as they need it. Democrats should increase federal funding for drug treatment (including the Bush Administration’s model voucher treatment program, Access to Recovery), establish policies that divert nonviolent drug law offenders to treatment instead of jail, and increase the number of people who can access substance abuse treatment through their health insurance. --Eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is responsible for immense racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system. Several Senate Republicans have already introduced a bill to reform the sentences —although the legislation does not go far enough. And President Bush indicated early in his Administration that he would be open to reducing the disparity. Democrats should work to pass bi-partisan legislation eliminating this disparity. --Enact legislation to reduce drug overdose deaths and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Annual drug overdoses have more than doubled under Republican rule, yet not a single federal dollar goes to overdose prevention. Similarly, the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases from the sharing of dirty needles continues to mount; but not a single federal dollar goes to syringe exchange programs. Democrats can save thousands of lives a year by creating a federal grant program to help cities establish overdose prevention programs and lifting the federal ban that prohibits using federal money for syringe exchange. Preventing America’s sons and daughters from dying is a winning issue. “For years Democrats have allowed Republicans to beat them up on drug-related issues. But now they have an opportunity to go on the offensive with a clear reform message that will really impress voters,” said Piper. “The Democrats can distinguish themselves from Republicans and show voters that they can solve complicated problems.” ### The New York Times January 9, 2007 Judges Look to New Congress for Changes in Mandatory Sentencing Laws BYLINE: By LYNETTE CLEMETSON; Sabrina Pacifici contributed reporting. SECTION: Section A; Column 1; National Desk; Pg. 12 LENGTH: 1361 words DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 Federal sentencing laws that require lengthy mandated prison terms for certain offenses are expected to come under fresh scrutiny as Democrats assume control of Congress. Among those eagerly awaiting signs of change are federal judges, including many conservatives appointed by Republican presidents. They say the automatic sentences, determined by Congress, strip judges of individual discretion and result in ineffective, excessive penalties, often for low-level offenders. Judges have long been critical of the automatic prison terms, referred to as mandatory minimum sentences, which were most recently enacted by Congress in 1986 in part to stem the drug trade. Now influential judges across the ideological spectrum say that the combination of Democratic leadership and growing Republican support for modest change may provide the best chance in years for a review of the system. ''With a changing of the guard, there should at least should be some discussion,'' said William W. Wilkins, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. The House Judiciary Committee, under the new leadership of Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, is planning hearings on the laws, starting later this month or in early February. One of the first issues planned for review is the sentencing disparity between offenses involving powder and crack cocaine. The possession or trafficking of crack brings much harsher penalties than those for similar amounts of the powder form of the drug. Mr. Conyers, a longtime critic of mandatory minimum sentences, favors treating both drugs equally. The Senate Judiciary Committee has no immediate plans for hearings. But Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, also supports some changes in the sentencing policy for crack cocaine convictions (though more modest than Mr. Conyers and some other Democrats favor), and Judiciary Committee staff members say a serious Senate review of the issue is likely in the current Congress. Many law enforcement officials support tough, automatic sentences and argue that weakening existing laws will cause an increase in drug trafficking and violent crime. Many judges say current laws have clogged jails and too often punish low-level offenders. Some judges also argue that automatic lengthy sentences give prosecutors an unfair bargaining tool that they can use to tailor charges and press defendants into plea bargains. ''These sentences can serve a purpose in certain types of cases involving certain types of offenders,'' said Judge Reggie B. Walton of Federal District Court in the District of Columbia, who was appointed by President Bush, ''but when you apply them across the board you end up doing a disservice not just to individuals but to society at large.'' Several judges say that broad inclusion in the coming Congressional hearings on sentencing would mark a notable departure from Judiciary Committee activity under the former Republican chairman, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, who many judges say maintained an antagonistic stance toward judges. ''There was no question that judges were targeted under the Sensenbrenner committee for speaking out,'' said Judge Nancy Gertner, a Federal District Court judge appointed by President Bill Clinton who teaches a course on sentencing policy at Yale Law School. Judge Gertner and others point to the example of Judge James Rosenbaum, a Reagan appointee who, in 2003, faced a Congressional review of his sentencing decisions under a barrage of criticism that he and other federal judges were too lenient. Many in the judicial community argued that Judge Rosenbaum was singled out because he criticized a proposal to increase federal sentences in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Most judges shy away from direct formal involvement in legislative matters. But many say private interactions with legislators that do not focus on specific cases but on policy matters of concern to the judiciary are appropriate. Judge Wilkins, a former legislative assistant to Senator Strom Thurmond, said he believed private conversations on mandatory minimum sentences with his own congressman, Representative Bob Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, helped change the legislator's position. Mr. Inglis, once a supporter of tough automatic sentences, said during a 1995 House vote that he would never vote for them again and has since become a Republican leader on sentencing reform. ''I was delighted that he took a principled stand, and I would like to think I was of some benefit to him in getting there,'' said Judge Wilkins, who served as the first chairman of the Federal Sentencing Commission, the body charged by Congress with developing sentencing guidelines and collecting and analyzing statistics. Some judges have expressed displeasure with the system from the bench or in written opinions. At a sentencing last January Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., of the Western District of Texas, was required to add 10 years to the already mandated 10-year sentence in a crack distribution case because a gun was found under the defendant's bed. During the sentencing, the judge stated, ''This is one of those situations where I'd like to see a congressman sitting before me.'' In an impassioned written opinion in 2004, Judge Paul G. Cassell of the Federal District Court in Utah, who was appointed by President Bush, called the mandatory 55-year sentence he was forced to give a low-level marijuana dealer who possessed, but did not use or brandish, a firearm ''simply irrational.'' In the opinion, Judge Cassell recommended a commutation of the sentence by the president, noting that the sentence, with consecutive 25-year terms for firearm possession, was longer than those required for an airport hijacker, second-degree murderer or a rapist. The Supreme Court declined last fall to hear the case. But an amicus brief urging the court to take the case included signatures from legal figures like William Sessions, the former F.B.I. director; Janet Reno, attorney general during the Clinton administration; and Griffin Bell, attorney general under Jimmy Carter. Many opponents of mandatory minimum sentences would like to see a full repeal of the laws. ''After so many years of this, people have forgotten that we should be asking for the whole fix, not just little pieces,'' said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. But most legal, legislative and judicial experts agree that repeal, or even broad-ranging overhaul of existing laws, is unlikely. More probable is serious review of crack cocaine sentencing laws. Currently, possessing five grams of crack brings an automatic five-year sentence. It takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to warrant the same sentence. Similarly disparate higher amounts of the drugs results in a 10-year sentence. The 100-to-1 disparity, opponents of the law say, unfairly singles out poor, largely black offenders, who are more likely than whites to be convicted of dealing crack cocaine. At a sentencing commission hearing in November, Judge Walton, associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the first President George Bush and a onetime supporter of tough crack cocaine sentences, said it would be ''unconscionable to maintain the current sentencing structure'' on crack cocaine. Mr. Sessions is a co-sponsor of a bill that would change the ratio for the two drugs to 20 to 1, increasing the amount of crack that brings a five-year sentenceto 20 grams from 5, and lowering the powder cocaine trigger from 500 grams to 400 grams. If judges say they are hopeful for new debate on sentencing policy, they are quick to add that they are not naive. After all, many say, even politicians who are critical of current laws fear looking soft on crime. ''Candidly, the Democrats were never particularly courageous on this issue either,'' Judge Gertner said. ''But at least now it seems judges may be encouraged to be a part of the discussion. And if asked to speak up, I think many will.''
Location: 
United States

The Drug War's "Unacceptable Losses"

[This post comes courtesy of Ken Wolski, RN, MPA. He is the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana -- New Jersey, www.cmmnj.org, [email protected]] "Unacceptable Losses" opened Friday, 1/12/07, at the Woodrow Wilson School's Bernstein Gallery on the Princeton University Campus. This photo-documentary by photgrapher and med student Arthur Robinson Williams examines U.S. drug policy and victims of it. At the exhibit, there are large color and black and white prints that accompany text of interviews that Mr. Williams conducted. The photos Mr. Williams took seemed designed to capture the essential humanity of the subject. (Some of this photographic detail is missing in the web site.) The web site is divided into sections on Treatment on Demand, Sentencing Reform, Syringe Access, Harm Reduction and Medical Marijuana. The stories are very compelling. Though the web site is still a work-in-progess, I highly recommend a look. I was reminded of CMM-NJ member Roberta M., when I read the story of the man with RSD whose pain was so severe he contemplated suicide until he tried marijuana. I consider the War on Drugs the worst policy this country imagined. It combines the worst features of Prohibition and the Vietnam War, in its domestic and foreign components. Lack of medical access to marijuana for legitimate patients is an atrocity in this war. I was one of the first people who was photographed and interviewed by Mr. Williams during his one-year project, though he eventually found more compelling stories for the exhibit and the website. Mr. Williams is looking for additional stories to tell, and he invites submissions via his web site. His web site states: "Although law enforcement is an integral part of the War on Drugs, it is unnecessarily taking resources from effective and complimentary public health strategies. Your stories will form the foundation for that argument." The "Unacceptable Losses" exhibit hopes to tour the country's major universities the way the photo-journalist toured the country collecting subjects for the exhibit. For more, see http://unacceptablelosses.org/.
Location: 
Princeton, NJ
United States

Needle exchange bill again introduced in legislature

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Bay Area Reporter (CA)
URL: 
http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=1476

Drug needle machine plan rejected

Location: 
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
BBC News
URL: 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/north_west/6248091.stm

It Was the Best of Times: Drug Reform Victories and Advances in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. Both here at home and abroad, the year saw significant progress on various fronts, from marijuana law reform to harm reduction advances to the rollback of repressive drug laws in Europe and Latin America. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant victories and advances for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a top ten most significant defeats for drug law reform in 2006 below.)

Marijuana possession stays legal in Alaska. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case gave Alaskans the right to possess up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in the privacy of their homes, but in 1991, voters recriminalized possession. A series of court cases this decade reestablished the right to possess marijuana, provoking Gov. Frank Murkowski to spend two years in an ultimately successful battle to get the legislature to re-recriminalize it. But in July, an Alaska Superior Court threw out the new law's provision banning pot possession at home. The court did reduce the amount to one ounce, and the state Supreme Court has yet to weigh in, but given its past rulings, there is little reason to think it will reverse itself.

Local initiatives making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority win across the board. In the November elections, lowest priority initiatives swept to victory in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California, as well as Missoula County, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Earlier this year, West Hollywood adopted a similar ordinance, and last month, San Francisco did the same thing. Look for more initiatives like these next year and in 2008.

Rhode Island becomes the 11th state to approve medical marijuana and the third to do so via the legislative process. In January, legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to make the bill law. The bill had passed both houses in 2005, only to be vetoed by Carcieri. The state Senate voted to override in June of 2005, but the House did not act until January.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision is partially rolled back. In the face of rising opposition to the provision, which bars students with drug convictions -- no matter how trivial -- from receiving federal financial assistance for specified periods, its author, leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder, staged a tactical retreat. To blunt the movement for full repeal, led by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, Souder amended his own provision so that it now applies only to students who are enrolled and receiving federal financial aid at the time they commit their offenses. Passage of the amended drug provision in February marks one of the only major rollbacks of drug war legislation in years.

New Jersey passes a needle exchange bill. After a 13-year struggle and a rising toll from injection-related HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infections, the New Jersey legislature last week passed legislation that would establish pilot needle exchange programs in up to six municipalities. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed it into law this week. With Delaware and Massachusetts also passing needle access bills this year, every state in the union now either has at least some needle exchange programs operating or allows injection drug users to obtain clean needles without a prescription.

The US Supreme Court upholds the right of American adherents of the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable (UDV) to use a psychedelic tea (ayahuasca) containing a controlled substance in religious ceremonies. Using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a unanimous court held that the government must show a "compelling government interest" in restricting religious freedom and use "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. The February ruling may pave the way for marijuana spiritualists to seek similar redress.

The Vancouver safe injection site, Insite wins a new, if limited, lease on life. The pilot project site, the only one of its kind in North America, was up for renewal after its initial three-year run, and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper was ideologically opposed to continuing it, but thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign to show community and global support, the Harper government granted a one-year extension of the program. Some observers have suggested the limited extension should make the "worst of" list instead of the "best of," but keeping the site long enough to survive the demise of the Conservative government (probably this year) has to rank as a victory. So does the publication of research results demonstrating that the site saves lives, reduces overdoses and illness, and gets people into treatment without leading to increased crime or drug use.

The election of Evo Morales brings coca peace to Bolivia. When coca-growers union leader Morales was elected president in the fall of 2004, the country's coca farmers finally had a friend in high office. While previous years had seen tension and violence between cocaleros and the government's repressive apparatus, Morales has worked with the growers to seek voluntary limits on production and, with financial assistance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, begun a program of research on the uses of coca and the construction of factories to turn it into tea or flour. All is not quiet -- there have been deadly clashes with growers in Las Yungas in recent months -- but the situation is greatly improved from previous years.

Brazil stops imprisoning drug users. Under a new drug law signed by President Luis Inacio "Lula" Da Silva in August, drug users and possessors will not be arrested and jailed, but cited and offered rehabilitation and community service. While the new "treatment not jail" law keeps drug users under the therapeutic thumb of the state, it also keeps them out of prison.

Italy reverses tough marijuana laws. Before its defeat this spring, the government of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toughened up Italy's previously relatively sensible drug laws, making people possessing more than five grams of marijuana subject to punishment as drug dealers. The new, left-leaning government of Premier Romano Prodi took and last month raised the limit for marijuana possession without penalty from five grams to an ounce. The Prodi government has also approved the use of marijuana derivatives for pain relief.

Harm Reduction: New Jersey Governor Signs Needle Exchange Bill

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine Tuesday signed into law the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which will allow up to six municipalities to establish needle exchange programs in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The measure passed both houses of the legislature last week, 13 years after attempts to pass such legislation got underway.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/joncorzine.gif
Gov. Jon Corzine
Now, newspaper reporters will no longer have to use the boilerplate "New Jersey is the only state with neither needle exchange programs or access to needles without a prescription" when writing about AIDS in the Garden State. In addition to the needle exchange bill, the legislature this session also moved on a non-prescription needle sales bill, which passed the Assembly, but didn't get to a vote in the Senate. Proponents expect it to be on the agenda when the legislature gets back to work next year.

Corzine had previously supported the needle exchange bill and his signature was not in doubt. Under the new law, cities interested in starting needle exchange programs must pass an ordinance, and participants must be given referrals for HIV counseling and testing, drug treatment programs, and health and social services. Two cities, Atlantic City and Camden, have already passed such ordinances, and several others have expressed interest.

"Quite simply, this bill will save lives," said Governor Corzine in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. "The science is clear: Needle exchange programs have been proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and serve as gateways to treatment."

"Today ends New Jersey's dubious reign as our nation's only hold-out on progressive and common-sense policies that will save lives," said Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. (D-Camden). "Now we can begin to reverse our state's near-epidemic rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The needle exchange programs and enhanced access to addiction treatment we authorize today are a glimmer of hope to many who may otherwise have known only death and despair."

"Today we have taken responsibility to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in this state by making access to clean needles part of our comprehensive strategy to combat this public health epidemic," said Senator Nia Gill, (D-Essex), a Senate sponsor of this legislation.

New Jersey has the highest rate of cumulative HIV/AIDS cases among women, the third highest rate of pediatric HIV/AIDS cases, the fifth highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS cases and a rate of injection-related HIV infection that is nearly twice the national average.

[New Jersey] Governor Corzine Signs Legislation Establishing Pilot Needle Exchange Programs

Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States
Publication/Source: 
Office of the Governor
URL: 
http://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/news/approved/20061219.html

Feature: New Jersey Legislature Approves Needle Exchange Bill, Governor Will Sign

The New Jersey legislature last Friday passed a bill permitting the creation of needle exchange programs (NEPs) to block the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne illnesses in up to six Garden State municipalities. Now, health officials in cities including Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson are preparing to lay the bureaucratic groundwork for getting programs up and running. Atlantic City and and Camden have already passed ordinances allowing for such programs, while officials in the latter three cities are considering similar action.

In a statement released after the vote, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said he would sign the bill into law. "The science is clear: Needle exchange programs reduce sharing of contaminated needles, reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis C and serve as gateways to treatment," Corzine said. "The bottom line is that this program will save lives. I applaud the legislature for getting it to my desk, and I look forward to signing the bill and seeing the program implemented rapidly."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/niagill.jpg
Sen. Nia Gill, sponsor of Senate needle exchange bill
New Jersey has the nation's fifth-largest number of HIV and AIDS cases. The state ranks first in women with the virus and third in infected children. It is also the only state in the nation with neither needle exchange nor non-prescription access to syringes. (A syringe access bill passed the Assembly, but was not acted on in the Senate this year. Advocates hope for a vote early next year.) In numerous studies, NEPs have been shown to decrease the rate of infection among injection drug users, a leading vector for the disease.

The public health victory came 13 years after the notion was first proposed in New Jersey and nearly five years after the Drug Policy Alliance made it a key legislative priority in the state. "This is one of the happiest days of my life, the culmination of 4 ½ years of incredibly hard work," said Roseanne Scotti, who, as head of DPA's New Jersey office, has become the most prominent public advocate of needle exchange in the Garden State. "Now we are at the beginning of really being able to prevent injection-related HIV and Hep C infections."

Victory last week didn't come without a fight, complete with accusations of racism and genocide by some of its most vocal opponents. Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) led the opposition, and during final debate on the bill he called it "an experiment" on minorities and compared it to the federal government's Tuskegee experiment in the 1930s, where hundreds of black men were intentionally infected with syphilis without being told or treated. "The end result is the same -- death for a class of minorities and women," Rice said.

But Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), a sponsor of the bill, accused Rice of using stale arguments and standing in the way of cities that want to enact NEPs. "If Newark doesn't want it, Newark doesn't have to have it," Gill said. "We've crafted the bill so it's permissive -- it would let Camden try to save the lives of its people. Why not let them have a chance to save lives?"

Also opposing the bill was Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), who said she couldn't vote for it after speaking to the parents of a child who died of a drug overdose. "We're using taxpayer dollars to send people deeper into the abyss," she said.

In the end, public health arguments prevailed, with the Senate approving the bill 23-16, and, moments later, the Assembly approving it 49-27. Supporters had been unsure of the bill's prospects in the Senate before the vote.

"The action we are taking today will save lives," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) after the votes were counted.

"I'm very pleased," said Atlantic City health officer Ron Cash. "This is an opportunity for the city to use the tools we need to fight HIV/AIDS here."

Atlantic City is ready to go and waiting for the state, Cash told Drug War Chronicle. "The state health department has to produce an application form, and then we will submit a proposal. We could have a program running as early as March, but more likely it will be the middle of next year."

The victory was the result of hard work and a favorable political conjuncture, said Scotti. "This was partly the cumulative result of all the years of work, but we're also in a very good place politically," she said. "We have a governor, a Senate president, and an Assembly speaker who are all behind it, and that's critical. But part of arriving at this point was doing all the work to bring them along."

Scotti's work is not done, she said. "We'll be working on implementation and helping the cities get their programs going. Atlantic City and Camden already have ordinances in place, Newark Mayor Booker has spoken publicly about the need for NEPs, the Paterson health department is very interested, and so is Jersey City."

If the latter three cities join Atlantic City and Camden, that will make five, leaving room for only one more municipality under the new law. If there is interest from more cities, advocates could go back to the legislature, said Scotti. "The more the merrier," she said. "If we get more interest, we will push the legislature to amend the law."

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