by CHRISTINE ABRAHAM Photographer
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey Senate reached a compromise over the “Good Samaritan” law that allows drug overdose victims to call 911 and be free of legal repercussions.
Christie’s decision to approve of the bill led the way for a compromised measure to pass the state Senate and Assembly by overwhelming bipartisan margins. If Christie signs the bill as expected, New Jersey will join with 11 other states and the District of Columbia that have such laws.
Roseanne Scotti, the state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said Christie’s move was welcome because he’s “the governor with the most public standing to do it as of yet.”
Advocates gave Christie credit for changing his mind after facing pressure from Democratic sponsors and drug treatment organizations when he vetoed a similar bill early in October due to his concerns that it would protect drug dealers.
“I’m so glad that he’s approving of this law because so many people die due to fear of getting in trouble, but now more lives will be saved everyday,” said sophomore Brina Haugland.
Christie’s decision is the latest move on drug policy reform. He called the war on drugs a “failure” and he also expanded drug-court programs that redirect low-level offenders from jail to treatment.
“Governor Christie has said some really good things in terms of our drug policies nationally,” Scotti said. “In terms of the good Samaritan law, that epitomized the failure of the war on drugs; the fact that we prioritize prosecution over saving a life.”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there were about 752 deaths from drug overdose in just New Jersey alone in 2009. Scotti says that some of those lives could have been saved if only a good Samaritan law had been approved.
“This bill should have been approved a long, long time ago. So many people’s lives could be saved. It’s seriously about time!” said sophomore Ashley Garcia.
The agreement leaves in place what Scotti calls the essence of the law: protection for people with possession of a small amount of drugs who call 911 for help. A law that was similar in New York was credited for saving rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s daughter who overdosed on heroin and was kept from facing prosecution for drug possession charges.
Christie’s office came up with a compromise with advocates and sponsors on the law. Drug traffickers would not be covered under the law, and it leaves out many minor provisions. The new version of the bill expanded access to naloxone, which is a drug that can reverse opiate drug overdoses.
“Governor Christie is grateful that his concerns on this important issue were heard and incorporated in a bipartisan way,” Colin Reed, a Christie spokesman, told The Star-Ledger. “We look forward to reviewing the reworked bill in its final form.”