Decriminalizing Drug Possession in Maine: The Politics and Policy Fight.
AUGUSTA, MANCHESTER COUNTY, MAINE —
On Thursday, the Democratic-led Maine Legislature supported a bill that would convert possession of scheduled narcotics from a criminal offense to a civil penalty, marking a triumph for supporters of criminal justice reform this year.
Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, proposed the bill, which is one of the most significant pieces of criminal justice legislation introduced in Maine this year. It would be similar to the Oregon model, in which individuals in addiction recovery who possess a scheduled narcotic such as heroin for personal use are obliged to pay a $100 fine or submit to a recovery and treatment assessment.
It passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 77-62 and was later approved by the Senate. After dividing Democrats on the Legislature’s public safety committee, the plan now faces additional consideration in both houses. It was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills’ administration, Attorney General Aaron Frey, law enforcement, and legislative Republicans, resulting in a tough route to final passage. Perry’s plan would be the first of its kind in the country, requiring anyone who has scheduled medicines to pay a $100 fine or be assessed for treatment within 45 days. Possessing narcotics today involves a variety of punishments that vary according to the amount and type of drug, ranging from felonies for heroin or cocaine to misdemeanors for prescription medications.
Sober living and recovery experts and advocates who supported the measure, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine, noted the state’s need to redirect resources away from jail and toward addiction recovery and treatment. The initiative is expected to save the state $1 million in annual jail costs.
“We do need to treat this condition, and law enforcement will play a role in that effort, but law enforcement is not the gatekeeper to recovery,” Perry stated on the House floor. “It serves as an entry point for solitude and suicide.”
However, the dramatic shift became too much for Maine law enforcement agencies, including the Democratic governor’s administration. Maine’s Drug Enforcement Agency rejected the legislation in part because it did not include tougher punishments for repeat offenders or a definition of possession.
“These folks require assistance, and the greatest social worker to assist them is law enforcement,” Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Milford, stated in opposition to the bill.
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Andrews, C. (2021, June 17th). Maine Legislature bucks Janet Mills, police in voting to decriminalize drug possession. Bangor Daily News. https://bangordailynews.com/2021/06/17/politics/maine-house-bucks-janet-mills-police-in-vote-to-decriminalize-drug-possession/