Advocates Say Harm Reduction Measure is Important Step Toward Drug Law Reform

March 13, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine – The Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety today voted unanimously “ought to pass as amended” on a bill that will remove criminal penalties for possession and exchange of hypodermic needles, among other things. The bill passed by the committee is an amended version of LD 1492, “An Act to Reform Drug Sentencing Laws,” sponsored by Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center (Rockland).

Advocates called this an important step forward for harm reduction. When it is illegal to possess needles, users are more likely to re-use or share dirty needles, which can lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, etc. Maine has one of the highest rates of acute Hepatitis C throughout the nation.

They also called on legislators to continue pursuing broader drug law reform, including measures to reduce the use of felony charges that were included in the original version of the bill.

The following quotes can be attributed as noted:

Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, Rockland: “I am encouraged that such a broad range of people got on board with this essential piece of drug law reform. Everyone from medical experts to law enforcement has come to agree that ending criminal penalties for needle possession is essential to protecting public health. There is still much more to do, and I hope this is only the beginning of a broader conversation about shifting our response to the drug problem away from the criminal justice system.”

Kenney Miller, executive director, Health Equity Alliance: "While we applaud the unanimous support of decriminalizing hypodermic syringes and other steps forward, we hope that LD 1492 opens up a meaningful and serious conversation about our reliance on the criminal justice system to address problematic drug use. Criminal justice reform is a form of harm reduction, and we can't punish our way into recovery. This is a step forward to prevent harm to our communities, but it is far from the end of our journey."

Meagan Sway, policy counsel, ACLU of Maine: “Maine is finally waking up to the fact that we have to end the war on people who use drugs, and start supporting common sense measures that save lives. The resources we use arresting and jailing people for drug use would be much more effective if we reinvested them in a public health response. Ending criminal penalties for needle possession is an important first step.”

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