Healey gets it wrong

By opposing needle legalization, the Republican lieutenant governor plays politics with life and death
By EDITORIAL  |  June 28, 2006

SELF-STYLED CRIMINAL-JUSTICE EXPERT: Kerry Healey won’t join tough-guy DAs who support clean needles.
First the good news: the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives have voted to legalize over-the-counter pharmacy sales of hypodermic needles to those over 18 years old who provide adequate proof of their age. They did so with bipartisan support and by what appear to be veto-proof margins.

In essence it is a common-sense move. Experts have convincingly demonstrated that the decriminalization of needle possession successfully curtails the spread of HIV and hepatitis-C infections. Moreover, the legislative action comes at a particularly relevant moment in the calendar.

“This month marks the 25th year since AIDS was first identified,” said Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. “This is the single-most important prevention legislation in the last ten years. This program will save lives, reduce new infections, and save the Commonwealth millions of dollars in health-care costs over the next several years.”

The action by the legislature means that Massachusetts is poised — at last — to join the 21st century. At the moment, it is the only New England state not to have a legal needle provision. And it is only one of three states nationwide where possession of needles without a doctor’s prescription is a crime.

Doing the right thing, the tough-minded thing, the necessary thing is not an everyday occurrence at the State House. When it happens, we should join in and applaud.

Now the bad news: Republican governor Mitt Romney has said he will veto the legislation. That, of course, comes as a surprise to few. The man who ran as a moderate, and hoodwinked voters by doing so, has shown his true colors by reinventing himself as a right-wing Republican in hopes of winning the White House. Instead of furthering the cause of AIDS prevention and education by signing the bill and embracing the concept that the broadest public good is best served by such a move, Romney debases his office and the very idea of public service by playing gutter politics with the issue. And, by doing so, he gives his presumptive heir apparent, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, a tin drum on which to beat.

To watch Healey, who stretches credulity by basing her claims to executive competency on her supposed expertise on matters of criminal justice, is indeed disheartening. That Romney should know better and doesn’t act differently is a fact of political life. But Healey’s willingness to court narrow political gain rather than save lives is disgraceful. Protesters who chanted “Stepford wives for dirty needles” when Healey made her stand against the bill while surrounded by concerned mothers were right on target. In fact, they were too kind.

Don’t worry; we’re not going to argue against motherhood in this editorial. And no one in their right mind would argue that drug use, drug abuse, or drug addiction are good things. But even in the face of public-education campaigns, state and federal “wars” on drugs, and mankind’s innate sense of self-preservation, drug use and addiction persist. The knowledge that drug use is a scourge has not — and will not — make it go away. To argue otherwise is too bury one’s head in the sand. But that is what Healey wants us to do.

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