AUGUSTA - In a significant advancement of harm reduction practices, the Maine Senate voted unanimously last night to pass LD 994, a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possessing and providing syringes and other safer use supplies. The House also voted unanimously to pass the same last Wednesday, June 2.
LD 994 will now move between both bodies for enactment.
Maine has ten state-regulated syringe service providers. Yet possession of 11 or more syringes or exchange of even one syringe are both Class D crimes punishable by jail time and a fine of up to a $2,000, even if a person is utilizing a syringe service program.
Additionally, police departments, harm reduction organizations and hospitals across the state are providing fentanyl testing strips. Yet the distribution of these testing strips is a crime, and the use of the strips is a civil violation punishable by a mandatory $300 fine.
According to the national CDC, syringe service providers reduce hepatitis C and HIV infection rates by almost half. Yet the fear of criminal penalties can keep people from utilizing these services, and instead cause them to share and reuse syringes and improperly dispose of supplies. Maine has consistently had a higher rate of hepatitis C infection than the national average, and last year, Maine lost more people to drug overdoses than COVID-19.
LD 994 removes barriers to healthcare created by criminal penalties, and helps to address the public health crises of substance use and overdose death.
The following statements can be attributed as noted:
Rep. Genevieve McDonald (Stonington), LD 994 bill sponsor:
"This vote means that more Mainers, more of our family members, loved ones, friends and neighbors, will stay alive. This vote means we are moving toward a more effective approach to tackling Maine’s opioid overdose crisis, an approach centered in public health. We are removing stigma and encouraging people to get help by no longer punishing people for using and sharing safer use supplies."
Meagan Sway, Policy Director, ACLU of Maine:
"The Legislature's vote on LD 994 recognizes that we can't punish our way out of substance use and overdose deaths. People need access to the life-saving public health measures that LD 994 provides without fear of arrest and incarceration. We need to change our drug laws to save lives, and LD 994 is an important move toward evidence-based policies. This is a huge victory for Maine, and it wouldn't have happened without the advocacy and persistence of people in the harm reduction and recovery communities."
Whitney Parrish, Director of Advocacy and Communications, Health Equity Alliance
“Health Equity Alliance applauds the Maine Legislature for passing this commonsense approach to ensure the health, safety, and dignity of our residents and communities. As a service provider operating syringe service programs across the state, we see the damage done by lack of access to new, sterile supplies, as well as unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system for simply possessing the tools to keep oneself—and one’s community—safe. The passage of LD 994 sends a clear message: criminalization does not keep people safe and healthy, and divestment from criminal justice-centered approaches to public health issues is the only way out of the overdose death crisis in Maine. We are proud of this tremendous step forward.”