No one should go to jail for calling 911 to try to save someone's life.

Unfortunately, in New Jersey, the threat of criminal prosecution still hangs over drug users who witness an overdose, discouraging them from seeking help.

Last week, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, which was passed by the Legislature in August.

The bill would have offered limited protection from arrest on drug use and drug possession charges for people who seek help in case of an overdose.

Drug overdoses remain the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state. More than 700 New Jersey residents died from overdoses in 2009. Deaths from overdoses doubled nationally from 1999 to 2005. Most people who overdose do not die right away and are not alone. Many of those people might have been saved if the people they were with - often other drug users - had called for help.

That's why 10 states have enacted some type of good Samaritan drug-overdose law since 2007.

They are similar, in intent, to a 2009 New Jersey law that provided immunity to underage drinkers who seek emergency help for other underage drinkers.

In vetoing the New Jersey bill, Christie suggested that lawmakers instead direct the Division of Criminal Justice to study the issue for 18 months and come back with recommendations. But that suggestion does little more than delay a decision and postpone a law that could begin saving lives now.

The conditional veto is especially ironic in light of the courageous and correct stance that Christie took earlier this year in pushing to expand drug courts to divert more nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs rather than jail.

At that time, Christie said, "No life is disposable."

He repeated that sentiment in his veto message, saying, "The state's commitment to our most vulnerable and most needy requires innovative ways to intervene in the lives of those who have succumbed to the empty temptations of drug addiction."

Those are difficult statements to argue with, and they are also difficult to reconcile with the decision to veto the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act.

Except, of course, that a law that can be spun as going easy on drug users might interfere with the governor's growing national political ambitions.

The state Senate and Assembly could attempt to override Christie's veto, but that probably won't happen, and that's a shame.

Christie was right when he said that our drug policies should be more concerned with helping people than with punishment.

It is unfortunate to see him back down from that position.


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