Sen. Bohacek has introduced SB 11 which requires entities administering a needle exchange program to establish a needle exchange registry. The registry would be optional for users and, if the user was on the registry, the user might use that registration as a defense to crimes involving possession of the needles.
Currently, needle exchange administrators are prohibited from collecting personally identifiable information. That prohibition is deleted and the legislation would require them to maintain a registry. The registry is to include the person’s name, date of birth, and last four digits of their social security number. The information in the registry is only to be accessed by a court, a court clerk, or a law enforcement officer. (This would seem to prevent the needle exchange administrator itself from accessing the information — which I presume is not the intent, but maybe a drafting oversight.)
The legislation also says “an individual may opt out and is not required to be included on the registry.” The benefit to the user of registering is that, if they’ve registered within the past year, they can use the registration as a defense to prosecution for possession of a hypodermic needle for use with a controlled substance.
I get where this legislation is coming from. On the one hand, the government says it’s a crime to possess a hypodermic needle to use controlled substances. On the other hand, the government is giving you hypodermic needles that you’re almost certainly going to use for injecting controlled substances. This maybe harmonizes the message a little bit.
I’m ambivalent about the drug war. On the one hand, I think addiction and drug use does a lot of harm to our communities. On the other hand, I think policing, prosecuting, and jailing drug users comes with a lot of expense and does some harm in the process. I don’t have a good sense of where the balance is. Could we decriminalize possession of needles entirely without exacerbating addiction and drug use? I have no idea — I’m not on the front lines of this issue. I do have the sense that the benefits of needle exchanges themselves outweigh the harm. Preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in our communities outweighs the harm, which I think is probably marginal, from tacit endorsement of the use of needles. Even though the message is mixed somewhat, I don’t think it’s too complicated for the general public to figure out that the government doesn’t want people injecting illegal drugs, but if they are going to do it anyway, the government would prefer they use clean needles and not contract debilitating diseases that are expensive to treat.
I don’t have a good sense of how this legislation would shake out. Would it increase or decrease the use of needle exchanges? If it increases use, does the resulting harm reduction outweigh the increase, if any, in drug use that results from having a defense to the crime of possessing a needle for drug use? (I think they might revoke my blogging card for not pretending certainty and proclaiming every issue a clear and obvious matter of good versus evil.)