Legislation Deputy Republican Leader Nancy Muñoz sponsors to combat New Jersey’s heroin crisis continues to advance. The measure won approval today from the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee in June.

The bill, A-783/A-2831, implements a recommendation from the July 2013 report from the State Commission on Investigation titled “Scenes from an Epidemic: A Report on the SCI’s Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse.” It increases the penalties for manufacturing, distributing, and dispensing heroin by reducing the amount of heroin necessary to be charged for first, second and third-degree offenses.“It’s a frightening epidemic that crosses racial, geographic and socioeconomic lines,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “We need to update our statutes to reflect reality. Current law allows individuals arrested for heroin offenses to avoid the most serious drug charges. That, along with convenience and low cost, is feeding this crisis. It’s time to make the punishment fit the crime.”

Since the seriousness of drug crimes is currently measured by the amount or weight of the controlled dangerous substance, the distribution of heroin and cocaine carry the same penalty. Heroin, however, provides more pharmacological effect from a given weight than does cocaine. As a result, the amounts of heroin consumed by an average user and carried by an average dealer are far lower than those involving cocaine, therefore, those who manufacture or distribute heroin are treated more leniently than those who distribute cocaine.

Under Muñoz’ bill, the threshold for a first-degree offense would be lowered from five ounces to 2.5 ounces or more of heroin. It carries a prison term of 10 to 20 years, up to a $500,000 fine, or both. In addition, a mandatory minimum term may be imposed, fixed at, or between, one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed with no eligibility for parole.

For a second-degree offense the threshold quantity would be reduced to 0.17 ounces or more, but less than 2.5 ounces of heroin. It is punishable by imprisonment for five to 10 years, up to a $150,000 fine, or both.

A third-degree offense would require a threshold quantity of less than 0.17 ounces and is punishable by three to five years in prison, up to a $75,000 fine, or both.