AUGUSTA — The Maine House gave its initial approval to a bill Wednesday 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 vote on the measure, sponsored by Representative Genevieve McDonald, D-Stonington, was unanimous.
If passed into law, LD 994 would eliminate the crime of illegal possession of hypodermic syringes, and possession of a hypodermic syringe with residue of drugs would no longer be considered criminal possession of those drugs.
The bill would also declassify items used for ingesting drugs and items used to test the contents of a drug.
Lastly, providing hypodermic syringes to others would no longer be considered an act of illegal trafficking.
“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. “Giving someone 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. Instead, it potentially jeopardizes their employment, their family’s stability and other areas of their lives.”
Currently in Maine, possessing 11 or more hypodermic syringes is a Class D crime, even when they are unused, and can result in a sentence of up to 354 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
“We are not enabling people to use drugs, we are enabling people to live,” said McDonald. “Bills such as this are tools we need to save the lives of our friends, neighbors and loved ones before it’s too late.”
More than 58 people and organizations submitted testimony in support of McDonald’s bill during its public hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in April, including the Maine Department of Public Safety. The committee voted 11-1 to recommend the measure’s passage.
The measure now moves to the Senate for further votes.
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.