Over the last few years, New Jersey has taken meaningful steps towards dismantling the War on Drugs, with the passage of cannabis legalization and decriminalization and new investments in harm reduction resources. Yet these advances are threatened by Senate Bill 3325, legislation under consideration that would significantly increase criminal penalties for drug violations that are already severely criminalized under current New Jersey law and roll back our State’s progress.
Under the proposed bill, individuals would face first-degree penalties – which come with ten to twenty years of imprisonment and fines of up to $200,000 – for weights of drugs that are very low and commonly carried by people who use drugs. Given the prevalence of fentanyl in the drug supply, anyone carrying a small quantity of almost any illicit substance could find themselves impacted by this bill, particularly when the line between whether someone is charged with drug possession or drug selling is discretionary in nature and frequently impacted by racial bias.
This is the time for action and leadership. In order to prevent overdose deaths, we cannot keep relying on War on Drugs-era-style solutions that we already know do not work. Instead, New Jersey must shift its approach to drug use from criminalization and punishment to one that prioritizes public health and access to opportunity. There are evidence-based interventions – such as harm reduction and access to housing and jobs – that have been proven to reduce overdoses and keep people safer, and lawmakers should invest in those solutions. I urge you to vote no on Senate Bill 3325.