Interview from the John Locke Foundation: A Libertarian Perspective on Syringe Decriminalization

It’s not often that liberals and libertarians can agree on an issue, but syringe decriminalization in North Carolina is a policy that continues to gain bipartisan support.

Jon Sanders has worked for the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh for the past 16 years, currently serving as Director of Regulatory Studies. An avowed libertarian, Sanders supports efforts to pass syringe decriminalization legislation in North Carolina. Under current NC law, people in possession of a syringe can be charged with a class A misdemeanor if the officer feels the syringe has been or will be used for drugs. Syringe decriminalization would take syringes off the list of drug paraphernalia. In areas where it has been adopted, syringe decriminalization has been shown to reduce needle-sticks to law enforcement by 66%, as criminal offenders are more likely to declare syringes during a search if they know they will not be prosecuted. Also, decriminalization is a proven, no-cost solution to reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission by allowing greater access to clean needles, thus reducing the incidence of sharing.

“Syringe decriminalization seems like a common sense way of handling a dangerous problem,” says Sanders. “We don’t want law enforcement subject to needle-sticks on the job and we don’t want law-abiding citizens to fear arrest for drug paraphernalia if they carry needles for diabetes.”

Syringe decriminalization is in concert with many libertarian and conservative values, including low cost. “It doesn’t impose cost on society, and if anything, helps to remove one,” says Sanders. “This law could keep innocent people from taking action that hurts others such as trying to get rid of needles in public parks [because they are afraid to carry them for fear of police]. Greater access to syringes also keeps people from having to use the same needles over again.”

One concern often voiced about syringe decriminalization is that making it easier to obtain syringes would encourage drug use. Sanders debunks this idea.

“You could use the same argument for syringes that conservatives use with guns,” explains Sanders. “The syringe it not the problem. Criminality depends on how people use syringes.”

Jon Sanders graciously participated in the Summit on Law Enforcement Safety and Drug Policy on June 12th in Raleigh. He served on several bipartisan panels, including one on syringe decriminalization.

“The Summit had Republicans and Democrats from the legislature talking about ways they could work together on good public policy. There were also members of law enforcement there in support. My politics are libertarian, but I like when [different sides] can find agreement. We all want to make society a better place, but have different beliefs on how to do that. If we can find tangible points of agreement, I say let’s move forward. I’d like to see where we can go with this issue.”






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