A new program taking aim at the nation’s growing drug problem, one that has been successful in towns such as Gloucester, MA and bigger cities such as Seattle and Baltimore, is now being sought after by many other states, cities, and towns. Maine is one of those states. At a hearing on Thursday, February 18, the ACLU will add our support for LD 1488, a bill to support Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot programs in Maine.

LEAD aims to change the way law enforcement deals with low-level drug crimes, collaborating with treatment facilities and sometimes non-profit organizations to redirect potential “offenders” to a more productive institution that can address the needs of an individual suffering from drug abuse..

The program may challenge the way we view drug crimes and shift the national discourse on drug use. This discourse too often focuses primarily on the criminal side of drugs, with an emphasis on punishment rather than helping people get off drugs and maintain productive and fulfilling lives.

LEAD aims to improve public safety and order and reduce the criminal behavior of those who participate in the program as well as  reduce the unproductive incarceration of drug users for minor possession that often does little to end drug use. The effectiveness of LEAD was verified in a quantitative study carried out by the University of Washington.

Chief Leonard Campanello of Gloucester, MA is passionate about the positive effects of his own LEAD program, one that asks those suffering from drug abuse to turn themselves in to the police department, in return placing them in treatment facilities rather than arresting them, regardless of whether or not the individual has insurance or the means to fund such facilities. In a recent New York Times article, Campanello’s “Angel” (participants are paired with volunteers who help determine what treatment is best suited for them) program is profiled and shown to be positive from fiscal and societal perspectives. 200 treatment centers have signed on as partners, and the cost of treatment is $55 a day on average per participant - compared to $220 a day to incarcerate an individual (including the arrest, processing, and holding for one day).

Maine needs solutions to its drug problems, solutions that don’t simply facilitate more arrests but that help Mainers get clean by giving them the opportunity to avoid arrest for minor possession and receive much needed treatment regardless of their financial circumstance. This program could bring more treatment centers to Maine as well as a better understanding of the effects of drugs on people who suffer from addiction, and how difficult it is to get off drugs without the resources to do so.

When the Legislature considered LD 1537, a bill to fund law enforcement as well as treatment facilities, there was an overwhelming theme in the testimony - with law enforcement officers, health officials, non-profit organizations, and legislators all agreeing upon the need for more attention to treating drug addiction rather than law enforcement. LEAD is a way to shift the dynamic of law enforcement and health care approaches, merging them in a way that could revitalize Maine’s approach to the ‘war on drugs’.