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New laws increase penalty for 'date rape drug' use, possession

State and federal laws against gamma hydroxybutyric acid — the drug known as GHB on which two University students allegedly overdosed last year — have been strengthened, increasing the penalty for both possession and consumption of the drug.

According to Borough Police Lt. Anthony Federico, an August 1999 amendment to a New Jersey statute added GHB — commonly referred to as a date rape drug — to the controlled substances list, which includes illegal drugs such as marijuana. He said anyone who uses a controlled substance without medical permission can be charged with a disorderly persons offense.

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A disorderly persons offense is punishable under the New Jersey criminal code with as many as six months in jail and a fine of $1,000, said Susan Shapiro, a court administrator for the Princeton Borough.

Nationally, the House of Representatives passed a bill in October that would amend the Controlled Substances Act, placing GHB on the list of most strictly regulated drugs. The bill would make possession of the drug with the intent to manufacture, dispense or distribute it an offense with a penalty of as many as 20 years in prison. President Clinton has indicated he will approve the law.

University officials hailed the laws as being steps in the right direction. Though there have been no reported incidents of GHB use on campus this year, SHARE director Janet Waronker said she was hopeful the new laws would raise campus awareness of the dangers of the drug.

"I certainly hope it will make people more cautious," she said. "In this environment, it's difficult for people to watch their drinks because of the high use of open containers."

Though Federico said he does not think the new laws will have an effect on drug use, he was supportive of the plans. "Any law that makes the penalty stricter for possession is definitely better," he said.

Waronker said she hopes the law will limit the availability of the drug. "GHB has been more easily available in the past and I'm hoping the law will change that," she said.

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According to Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Marianne Waterbury, "the minimum penalty for any drug possession is three months of disciplinary probation. However, that penalty increases depending on the seriousness of the incident or of the drug itself."

Waterbury said GHB use is a serious concern for the University. "Possession, consumption, distribution of GHB are all considered more serious than possession or consumption of a small amount of marijuana," she said.

Waronker said GHB can cause sedation and decreased respiratory function. "It can cause someone to go unconscious," she said.

A common problem with detecting GHB abuse is that the drug can not be detected in a urine test more than 24 hours after consumption. "There's a small window of opportunity," Waronker said.

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