AUGUSTA – In a significant step toward moving Maine’s drug policy away from punishment and toward evidence-based solutions, the Maine House voted 77-62 on Thursday to advance LD 967. The bill would make minor drug possession a civil penalty. Instead of arrest or incarceration, people would have the option of paying a fine or receiving a health assessment, with a connection to treatment if appropriate.
Advocates are celebrating the win in the House.
“Advocating for LD 967 with others in recovery has been an empowering experience for me,” said Mikki Rice, a recovery advocate. “By telling lawmakers about our experiences, we have changed the conversation about how we should treat people with substance use disorder. By speaking out, we’ve helped remove some of the stigma of criminalizing people for a medical condition. I have been able to see that we have the power to change policies.”
A recent poll by the ACLU of Maine found broad support for LD 967. Sixty percent of Maine voters support ending criminal penalties and offering people the option of a fine or treatment, when appropriate. A fiscal analysis found that LD 967 would save the state more than half a million dollars annually.
“It is costly and a waste of taxpayer resources to keep arresting and incarcerating people for simply possessing a substance, which is often a symptom of substance use disorder,” said Courtney Allen, policy director at Maine Recovery Advocacy Project (ME-RAP). “The money LD 967 would save us annually could be used to expand access to detox beds, treatment, recovery community centers, and recovery housing. These are the things that we know help to initiate and sustain long term recovery, not jail time and a criminal record.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Anne Perry (Calais), who has been a nurse for decades, recalled patients she has had who have died from an overdose after being released from jail.
“Arrest and jail are not a gateway to treatment and recovery,” said Rep. Perry. “They are a gateway to isolation and suicide. We have got to find a way to treat this as a disorder and bring people to recovery.”
The Senate will take up the bill on June 30.
The following statements can be attributed as noted:
Meagan Sway, policy director, ACLU of Maine
“With this vote, legislators have taken a major step away from punitive and ineffective policies and toward a public health informed approach. Criminalizing people for substance use has resulted in the widespread denial of civil rights, and it does not work. This vote affirms the years of tireless advocacy by people in recovery, harm reduction experts and their allies to chart a new path based on what people with lived experience know helps them succeed.”
Whitney Parrish, policy and advocacy director, Health Equity Alliance (HEAL)
“It’s fitting that a major vote to end the War on Drugs came on the 50th anniversary of its declaration. Lawmakers and Mainers recognize this failed policy approach has harmed our communities and ravaged health outcomes for generations. Decades of punishment have only led to wasted resources, hurting communities, and devastated — or lost — lives. We applaud lawmakers for listening to the real experts and voting for policies that work.”