The New Hampshire House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would legalize needle exchange programs. The measure now heads to the Senate.
The bill would allow non-profits and private organizations to set up programs where drug users and others can legally drop off used syringes and get clean ones, without any state regulation or funding.
The bill received little pushback on the House floor. Many lawmakers argued that New Hampshire's ongoing drug crisis makes access to clean needles a public health issue. Last year more than 430 people statewide died from a drug overdose.
But the proposal concerns some Republicans, such as John Tholl of Whitefield, who thinks state involvement is needed.
“I would prefer to see us do something that creates a needle exchange program or at least allows the state to set guidelines rather than what it does now is gives a free pass to everyone who wants a clean needle," Tholl told lawmakers, adding that the intent is there but that the bill needs some work.
But Republican Joe Hannon of Lee said the state can't wait for a perfect bill. He cited concerns of a potential uptick in HIV and Hepatitis C with more people using dirty needles.
The bill also decriminalizes trace amounts of narcotics on syringes in an attempt to remove the fear of being arrested when dropping off used needles. Under current law it is a felony to have a dirty needle. And law-enforcement officials say it could prevent them from arresting drug dealers.