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Syringe legalization proposal:  Slouching toward drug legalization?

There is a proposal working its way through the New Jersey legislature that would legalize the possession of hypodermic needles without a prescription.  Supporters of the bill say it would protect public health.  Opponents say that this is the first step toward drug legalization.

Under New Jersey law, it is a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail to possess a syringe without a prescription from a doctor.  The principal illegal use of a syringe is to inject heroin.  There is a proposal that would change all that.

Bills allowing pharmacies to make limited sales of syringes over the counter sailed through the Assembly in two weeks, but has stalled in the State Senate.  Proponents of the bill argue that this law will help stop the spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases.  They argue that drug users would be able to use clean needles instead of dirty needles, and that they would no longer share dirty needles with other drug users.

Opponents of the bill argue that needle exchange experiments in other countries have been abject failures, and that they encourage heroin use instead of stopping the spread of disease.  Opponents also believe that should this proposal succeed, that the next step would be legalization of narcotics.

As a matter of practical criminal law, the proposal would legalize possession of syringes - for children and adults alike - while leaving the legal prohibition against possession of other narcotics paraphernalia untouched.  In other words, heroin users will get legal protection that users of other, less dangerous illegal drugs will not.

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