Maine Considers ‘Harm Reduction’ Bill Decriminalizing Syringes

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Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and several district attorneys in Maine have come out in support of legislation that would remove criminal penalties for possession and exchange of hypodermic syringes, reports the Maine Beacon. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington), is being championed by health experts and criminal justice reform and harm reduction advocates as a basic yet essential preliminary step to dismantling decades of failed “War on Drugs” policies. McDonald’s bill would eliminate criminal charges for possession or trafficking hypodermic syringes. It also allows a person to possess syringes that contain residual amounts of drugs without getting charged with possession.

The Maine Medical Association, a group that advocates for policies on behalf of Maine physicians, also endorsed McDonald’s proposal. Organizations who oppose the criminalization of drug use, such as the Maine ACLU, the Health Equity Alliance and the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, also welcomed McDonald’s bill and spoke about the failure of policies centered around punishment to curb use and overdoses. During the hearing on the bill, no one testified in opposition. Meagan Sway, policy director at the Maine ACLU told the committee, “More people in Maine died last year from drug overdoses than died from COVID-19. And the numbers in 2021 are on pace to be much worse. You’ve had these laws on the books for a quarter of a century, and yet drug arrests and overdose numbers continue to rise. We do know what works, and that is harm reduction.”

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