Maine needs a statewide public health response to the deadly overdose epidemic – not the continued policies of the failed War on Drugs. Too many who want treatment for substance use disorder cannot get the help they need. Mainers in all parts of the state need paths to seek support and thrive on their own terms. Criminalizing a health condition creates barriers to recovery, weakens communities, and harms the economy.
We must treat problematic substance abuse for what it really is: a health issue that can be treated with a health-centric response. The policies of the past 50 years have not worked to keep people safe and healthy. We need a new approach. Investing in a statewide public health response to substance use will open doors to treatment, keep families and communities whole, and save taxpayer dollars.
Insufficient treatment options: Maine’s people do not have sufficient access to treatment options. Mainers who want access to treatment and recovery support cannot find the care they need, including detox beds, recovery housing, and other necessary supports.
Barriers to recovery: Criminalizing a health condition denies people the opportunity to seek treatment. Incarceration interrupts treatment and does not provide the connections, support, security, hope, and health care needed for long-term recovery.
Racial disparities: People of color, particularly Black and Indigenous people, face discrimination throughout the legal system. This disparity is even worse in drug cases. In 2018, Black people were roughly 1% of Maine’s total population but accounted for 8% of drug arrests and 12% of prison sentences.
Economic harm: The current policies of punishing people for living with a health condition are harming the economy for all. Ignoring the root causes of substance use disorder harms our state and local economies. In 2019 alone, Maine spent at least $111M criminalizing substance use. Incarceration also saddles people with lifelong criminal records that keep them from working, seeking education, and finding stable housing.
Funding for support: LD 1975 would provide funding for existing or new community-based receiving centers in every county. These would increase access to low-barrier treatment and harm reduction services. They would also create another tool for law enforcement by giving officers the option to help people seek treatment rather than being limited only to arresting and incarcerating.
Community-based treatment in all counties: LD 1975 would facilitate the establishment of receiving centers in every Maine county to conduct health needs assessments, offer screenings for substance use disorder treatment, provide essential support for basic needs, and act as a vital link to treatment, harm reduction, and recovery services.
Ending punishment for substance use: This legislation would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. This would foster a health-oriented response to drug use while maintaining the existing legal consequences for activities such as sharing, manufacturing, selling, and trafficking.
This bill originated in 2023 during the First Regular Session of the 131st Legislature. It was not passed in 2023 and was carried over into 2024 to be considered during the Second Regular Session of the 131st Legislature.
- Bill printed: 5/18/2023
- Referred to Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services: 5/23/2023
- Carried over from 2023 to 2024: 7/25/2023
- Public hearing in committee: 1/17/24
- Work session and vote in committee: N/A
- House vote: N/A
- Senate vote: N/A
- Action by governor: N/A