AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee gave strong support recently to a bill that would decriminalize possession of hypodermic syringes, improving public health and ensuring more Mainers with substance use disorder can access treatment rather than enter the criminal justice system.
The measure, sponsored by Representative Genevieve McDonald, D-Stonington, earned an 11-1 vote with one member absent.
“Thanks to my colleagues for recognizing and approaching the opioid epidemic as a public health issue and opting for a sharper focus on support, treatment and prevention,” said McDonald. “Burdening someone with a criminal record does not help them. It does not discourage injection or other types of drug use. It does not stop people from using drugs. It potentially jeopardizes their employment, their family’s stability and other areas of their lives.”
LD 994 would eliminate the crime of illegal possession of hypodermic syringes.
Additionally, possessing a hypodermic syringe with residue of drugs would no longer be considered criminal possession of those drugs.
Providing hypodermic syringes to others who may not be able to obtain them on their own would no longer be considered an act of illegal trafficking.
Finally, the bill would declassify items used for ingesting drugs, as well as testing strips and other items used to determine the contents of a drug, as “drug paraphernalia.”
Currently in Maine, possessing 11 or more hypodermic syringes is a Class D crime, even when they are unused, that can result in a sentence of up to 354 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
“This legislation would not enable people to use drugs, it would enable people to live," said McDonald. “Bills such as this are some of the tools we need to save the lives of our friends, neighbors and loved ones before it’s too late.”
More than 58 individuals and organizations submitted testimony in support of McDonald’s bill during the public hearing in April, including the Maine Department of Public Safety.
The measure now faces votes before the full House and Senate.
McDonald, House chair of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee and a member of the Marine Resources Committee, is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents the Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Vinalhaven and Marshall Island Township.