A bill that proposes spending $1.5 million to ramp up the war on drugs will do more harm than good, according to the ACLU of Maine. Citing rising arrest rates that have had no effect on the demand for drugs in Maine, the group called on the legislature to spend any new resources on treatment and prevention programs, not more law enforcement.
“More drug arrests don’t lead to less demand – in fact, while drug arrests have skyrocketed, so has drug use,” said Oamshri Amarasinham, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine. “The last several decades have proven that we cannot arrest ourselves out of the drug problem.”
In Maine, drug arrests have gone up nearly 240 percent since the mid-1980s. Yet despite the increase in enforcement, abuse has skyrocketed. According to information released by the attorney general, there were 163 drug-related deaths in Maine in 2012.
The bill would fund 10 new Maine Drug Enforcement agents as well as two prosecutors and two judges. It is a compromise version of LD 1811, a proposal by Gov. LePage to hire 14 MDEA agents, four prosecutors and four judges.
While the amended version allocates $750,000 to drug treatment programs, it does not go far enough in shifting the war on drugs paradigm from law enforcement to treatment and prevention, said the ACLU of Maine.
“While including drug treatment programs in the bill is an improvement, it doesn’t change the fact that this proposal is about spending almost two-thirds of new resources on more law enforcement. That’s hardly real change,” said Amarasingham.