The Coastal Packet: The true cost of Maine's drug policy

Monday, June 15

The true cost of Maine's drug policy

Grainne Dunne, Maine ACLU  - A couple weeks ago, MPBN aired this sad story: for the third year in a row the number of drug related deaths in Maine increased. In 2014, 208 Mainers died, up from 176 in 2013. These statistics are a sad and tragic reminder of the failures of our current drug policy...

This year, Governor LePage called for a renewal of the failed War on Drugs, providing funding in his new budget to hire more DEA agents and prosecutors to punish people for their addiction. At the same time, he decided to play doctor to thousands of Mainers struggling with addiction, proposing ending MaineCare coverage for methadone and switching everyone to Suboxone over the numerous objections of Maine doctors (people with actual licenses to practice medicine) and established best practice.

... Last week was the public hearing for LD 1407, a bill introduced by the governor to allow drug testing of all welfare recipients and to disqualify anyone with a felony drug conviction from recieving TANF benefits. Not only is this terrible policy, it's also unconstitutional. Poverty does not give the government probable cause for a warrantless search. Denial of vital assistance such as food stamps is not the best way of helping a person struggling with addiction to overcome it. Far from discouraging drug use, all the governor's bill actually accomplishes is to stigmatize and perpetuate false stereotypes about people receiving state benefits, all the while wasting taxpayer money violating Mainers' constitutional rights - money that should be being spent on treatment.

Fortunately, in addition to these terrible proposals, there are also some good drug policy reform bills being considered this legislative session. One is LD 113, An Act to Reduce the Penalties for Certain Drug Offenses, sponsored by Senator Katz of Augusta. If passed, LD 113 would downgrade current criminal penalties for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Today, if a person is caught possessing any amount of certain drugs (i.e half a pill) they are charged with a Class C crime, a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Possession of certain amounts are a Class B crime, punishable by up to ten years in prison...

Unfortunately, this bill faces opposition from the Governor's office, the Maine Attorney General and Maine Prosecutors Association, all of which pulled out the same old Drug War rhetoric to justify their opposition - claiming that they had to felonize people struggling with addiction in order to "get tough on the big time traffickers." ... Far from protecting addicted Mainers, current laws allow prosecutors to ruin countless lives (4 out of 5 of all drug arrests in Maine are for possession)...

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