Maine lawmakers have formally introduced a bill to broadly decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs—the latest state-based move to comprehensively address ending the drug war.
Rep. Anne Perry (D) is the lead sponsor of the legislation, which would make possession of a controlled substance a civil penalty punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time. If a person is unable to pay the fine, it could be waived if they underwent a health assessment which could involve a referral to substance use treatment.
Additionally, the proposal stipulates that people who seek out medical assistance for the anti-overdose medication naloxone, either for their own behalf or for another person, could not be subject to arrest or prosecution. It’s another harm reduction provision that advocates say will mitigate overdose deaths and destigmatize drug use.
The bill has been referred to the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
“Exposure to treatment eventually gets them to treatment,” Perry told The Sun Journal. “But if you don’t expose them to that, they don’t know where to go.”
The measure doesn’t lay out specific guidelines on the possession threshold that would be decriminalized, but that’s expected to be addressed later in the legislative process.
This is just the latest example of how states are considering ending criminalization for simple drug possession, with more lawmakers recognizing it as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.
Oregon voters historically ended prohibition of low-level drug possession at the ballot during last November’s election, which has contributed to the national conversation.
Closer to Maine, in neighboring Vermont, lawmakers unveiled legislation last month to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs in the state, making possession and dispensation of personal-use amounts of drugs subject to a fine of up to $50 or a referral to a substance use screening and health service.
Last week, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.
In New Jersey, meanwhile, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said last month that he’s “open-minded” on decriminalizing all drugs.
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