Legislation Deputy Republican Leader Nancy Muñoz sponsors to combat New Jersey’s heroin crisis won approval Thursday from the General Assembly. The bill, A-783/A-2831, cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee last month and the Assembly Judiciary Committee in June.

“We need to give law enforcement officials the tools they need to prosecute criminals who are spreading heroin in our local communities,” said Muñoz, R-Union, Morris and Somerset. “This is a frightening epidemic that crosses racial, geographic and socioeconomic lines. 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. We need to update our statutes to reflect reality. It’s time to make the punishment fit the crime.”

The measure 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.

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.