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Assembly Panel Clears Caride & Andrzejczak Bill to Toughen Penalties for Heroin Related Crimes, Combat Rising Use in NJ

Heroin overdoses and heroin-related deaths have increased dramatically throughout the state over the past few years as it becomes cheaper alternative to prescription pills

Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride and Robert Andrzejczak that would increase penalties for heroin offenses received approval from an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The bill (A-2831/A-783) increases penalties for certain heroin offenses by revising the threshold amounts for first, second and third degree crimes involving manufacturing, distributing and dispensing heroin or having the drug under one’s control with the intent to do so. The bill would incorporate the threshold adjustments according to recommendations in a 2013 report by the State Commission of Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse.

“This is a critical time for New Jersey, as heroin use continues to rise and reach dangerous levels. What makes heroin so dangerous is that it is cheap, easily available and users are getting younger and younger,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Heroin related deaths and overdoses in New Jersey have increased, and not just in areas deemed problematic, but all over the state. We must take action before we have a full-blown epidemic that cannot be controlled.”

“New Jersey faces a heroin epidemic that is threatening people of all ages, but it’s particularly alarming that so many young people are affected by this,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “This legislation will allow us to target the sources of heroin in communities across our state and save lives.”

Under the bill, the thresholds would be adjusted as follows:

· The first degree crime threshold would decrease to 2.5 ounces from 5 ounces, punishable by 10 to 20 years of imprisonment, a maximum fine of $500,000 or both.

· The second degree crime threshold would decrease to 0.17 ounces from 0.5 ounces, punishable by five to 10 years of imprisonment, a maximum fine of $150,000 or both and

· Any amount less than 0.17 ounces would constitute a third degree crime, punishable by three to five years of imprisonment, a maximum fine of $75,000 or both.

The seriousness of a drug crime is measured by the amount or weight of the controlled dangerous substance involved in the crime. Current law provides for equivalent weights and quantities of heroin and cocaine to be treated identically, which ignores the differences between how the two drugs are dealt with and used. In reality, the amounts of heroin consumed by an average user and carried by an average dealer are far lower than those involving cocaine. Thus, current law enables individuals arrested for heroin offenses to avoid the most serious drug charges.

The State Commission of Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse evaluated these differences and offered recommendations for a proportioned decrease in the thresholds for heroin offenses, which are reflected in the legislation.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.