Pubdate: Sun, 27 Mar 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Holly Ramer, Associated Press


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As New Hampshire lawmakers decide whether to 
allow needle exchange programs, some of the biggest debate has been 
over how to handle the smallest amounts of drugs.

Under current law, hypodermic needles and syringes can be dispensed 
only by pharmacists, and possessing a syringe containing any amount 
of heroin or other controlled drug is a felony. But faced with the 
state's growing drug crisis, the Legislature is considering a bill 
that would both clear the way for programs that allow drug users to 
swap dirty syringes for clean ones and would decriminalize residual 
amounts of drugs in syringes. It passed the House on Wednesday and 
now heads to the Senate.

The first part of the bill is not unusual; needle exchange programs 
already operate in more than 30 states. But the second provision is 
less common. Only five other states - New York, Connecticut, New 
Jersey, Kentucky, and Nevada - explicitly exempt trace amounts of 
drugs from their controlled drug laws, said Scott Burris, a Temple 
Law School professor and codirector of the Robert Wood Johnson 
Foundation's Public Health Law Research program.

Other states have taken different approaches. In some, courts have 
ruled there has to be a usable amount of a drug to constitute 
possession. In Maine, someone in the process of bringing a syringe 
with a residual amount to a needle exchange program would have an 
"affirmative defense to prosecution" under state law.

Similarly, Vermont drug users are not subject to prosecution when 
turning in syringes as part of an exchange program. Possession of any 
amount of an illegal drug is a crime in Rhode Island, though people 
are rarely, if ever, prosecuted for trace amounts found in syringes, 
according to the attorney general's office.

Still, the fear of prosecution is real, said Ryan Richards, a case 
manager at the HIV/HCV Resource Center in White River Junction, Vt.
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