As policy discussions currently focus on addiction treatment, Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove say it’s time to bring the fight directly to heroin dealers through longer prison sentences.
A bill by Connors, Rumpf and Gove would increase penalties for heroin dealers. (©iStock)
In direct response to the heroin epidemic sweeping across the state, the 9th District delegation has, for several legislative sessions, been the prime sponsors of companion legislation (S-272 and A-1175) which would empower prosecutors to charge drug dealers based on the dosage units rather than the weight of the drug.
The legislation, which was drafted in close collaboration with Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, specifically targets heroin dealers who, under current law, don’t receive sentences equivalent to the severity of their drug crimes.
The “units” reflect how many people might have been injured by the drug dealer’s illicit conduct. Under the delegation’s legislation, the charge by “units” would apply only to persons who distribute or possess illicit drugs with the intent to distribute. It would not be used to determine the seriousness of “simple possession” drug offenses.
The delegation issued the following statement regarding the lack of action on their legislation, despite the escalating scope of the heroin epidemic:
“Worsening an already horrendous situation that has reached epidemic proportions is the fact that a glaring defect exists in the law that allows heroin dealers to get off with lighter sentences than their family-destroying crimes warrant. If we want to get serious about combating the heroin epidemic, prosecutors need the legal tools to go after the very criminals who are at the center of it all.
“A renewed focus on addiction treatment doesn’t mean we can sit back and allow the very dealers who prey upon addicts, including children, to be back out on the street quicker due to a legal technicality. Our legislation was drafted on consultation with law enforcement officers on the front lines who personally witness the destruction that heroin dealers can bring to a community and unsuspecting families.
“Trenton has already taken too long to act. Every day that goes by without updating our drug laws to reflect the standing reality means that those dealers directly responsible for causing so much suffering will continue to get shorter prison sentences then they would otherwise receive for dealing cocaine.”
The delegation’s legislation also calls for revising the narcotic drug provisions of the state’s distribution law to a first degree crime for distributing one or more ounces or 500 or more units, a second degree crime for distributing one-half to less than one ounce or 100 to less than 500 or more units, a third degree crime for less than one-half ounces or less than 100 units.
Presently, S-272 is awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary Committee while A-1175 awaits action by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.
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