Legislation introduced Monday would strengthen state law by allowing drug dealing offenses to be graded by dosage units, rather than the weight, of controlled dangerous substances, including heroin.

The proposed law, a collaborative effort over the last several weeks among Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato and 9th District legislators, comes after nine people died of heroin overdoses in eight days in Ocean County last month.

Under the proposal, the option for law enforcement to charge by dosage units would apply only to those who distribute or possess illicit drugs with the intent to distribute, according to a statement by the legislators - state Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, all R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic. It would not be used to determine the seriousness of simple drug-possession offenses.

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The legislation would also allow for a defendant to be charged with a more serious degree charge than is permitted under the current law. Heroin distribution charges would be re-graded to make the weights comparable to the weights required for cocaine distribution charges.

The legislation was drafted at the request of Coronato to more effectively fight heroin trafficking in New Jersey. Coronato has called the heroin epidemic a crisis in Ocean County.

"Law enforcement needs this valuable tool to pursue the dealers who are profiting from this terrible addiction and ruining so many lives. This legislation will provide penalties befitting of the misery these dealers breed," Coronato said Monday.

Currently, the distribution of heroin and cocaine are assigned charges for offenders as if they were the same substance, despite heroin's more damaging effects. That results, the legislators said, in heroin dealers being treated more leniently than cocaine dealers. A half-ounce of heroin can be cut into many more doses than a similar amount of cocaine.

"The intent of our legislation, which would reclassify the prosecution of drug crimes, is to target major drug dealers who, under existing law, are able to avoid incarceration due to the weight classification presently used in drug offenses," the legislators said in their statement.

Staff writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.

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