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Caride Introduces Bill to Toughen Penalties for Heroin Related Crimes; Combat Rising Heroin 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

(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic) has introduced legislation to toughen penalties for crimes involving the manufacturing, distribution and dispensation of heroin to assist law enforcement in combating the alarming rise in heroin use in New Jersey.

“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. “Heroin related deaths and overdoses in New Jersey have increased, and not just in areas deemed problematic, but all over the state. We are past the point of concern. We must take action before we have a full-blown epidemic that cannot be controlled.”

Heroin use has increased sharply in recent years. Heroin use is no longer limited to areas historically known as “problem” areas, but rather it is pervasive in nearly every community throughout the state. This rise in demand has been led by individuals with pill addictions who easily make the transition into heroin abuse, and the availability of heroin in a pure form that allows users who are afraid of needles to snort it. This convenience is luring in users as young as 14 throughout New Jersey.

The bill (A-2831) decreases the thresholds for certain offenses involving the manufacturing, distributing or dispensing of heroin, or having heroin under one’s control with the intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense. The bill would incorporate the threshold deductions recommended in a 2013 report by the State Commission of Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse.

Demand for heroin has grown sharply in recent years. Caride said the current statutory scheme enables drug dealers to meet the growth in demand while avoiding the most serious criminal penalties.

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 those 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 report by 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. The recommendations would lower the threshold for a first degree offense from five ounces (141 grams) to 2.5 ounces (70 grams); from one-half ounce to .17 ounce (five grams) for a second degree offense, and make any amount less than .17 ounce (five grams) a third degree offense.

“People who might have avoided the drug over fear of injecting themselves with needles can now snort it. Heroin offers an even more powerful high than painkillers at a much lower price, with a dose costing about as much as a pack of cigarettes,” said Caride. “This is convenience at its worst.”

“Our law enforcement can use all the help it can get to fight this tidal wave. Toughening the penalties for the production and sale of heroin can help deter those individuals who engage in this criminal activity and may think the lesser penalties are worth the risk of getting caught,” added Caride.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.