A bill that could come before Maine’s 130th legislature, one that would suggest decriminalizing use or possession of class W, X, Y and Z drugs, is being introduced by Rep. Anne Perry (D-Calais).
According to Perry, she is introducing LR 933, An Act To Amend the Drug Laws by Decriminalizing the Individual Use or Possession of Schedule W, X, Y, and Z Drugs “with the idea we need to continue this discussion.” If passed into law, this would favor treating drug use with health services, rather than with criminalization. Drug possession is the most arrested offense in the United States.
“During the last session I heard many times from law enforcement that many of these people need to be in treatment and not in our jails. So how do we do this? This will certainly be a state-wide discussion,” she said.
Several factors have influenced Perry’s reasoning to push for the decriminalization of use or possession of class W, X, Y, and Z drugs. During the last session, Rep. Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) sponsored LD 1492, An Act To Reform Drug Sentencing Laws, of which Perry was a co-sponsor. “This would have decriminalized under 3.5 grams of most narcotics,” Perry said, adding that both the Maine Sheriffs’ Association and the Maine Medical Association were in support of that bill.
Additionally, this past November in Oregon, Measure 110 was approved with nearly 59% of the vote. Measure 110 decriminalized possession of smaller amounts of all illegal drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids.
Under Measure 110, these low-level drug offenses would move from a misdemeanor to civil infractions, comparable to a traffic ticket. Law enforcement officers can issue a ticket with a $100 fine, rather than arrest and jail those carrying drugs for personal use. If the person agrees to undergo a drug treatment evaluation, the fine would be waived.
“Further information that helped me to support such an idea is the following: Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2001. In Portugal, a person who is found with drugs on them is referred to a panel of medical experts who determine whether drug treatment is appropriate, and connect people with help that way,” Perry said.
She also shared information from the Drug Policy Alliance, “More than a decade later [after Portugal decriminalized drugs], drug use [there] has remained about the same – but arrests, incarceration, disease, overdose and other harms are all down.”
The Drug Policy Alliance (drugpolicy.org) shows that Portugal’s drug use rates remain below the European average and far lower than rates of drug use in the U.S. Also of importance, the Drug Policy Alliance shows the following statistics related to Portugal having decriminalized drugs:
• Between 1998 and 2011, the number of people in drug treatment increased by more than 60%.
• The number of new HIV diagnoses dropped dramatically – from 1,575 cases in 2000 to 78 cases in 2013 – and the number of new AIDS cases decreased from 626 in 2000 to 74 cases in 2013.
• Drug overdose fatalities also dropped from about 80 in 2001 to just 16 in 2012.
• The number of people arrested and sent to criminal courts for drug offenses annually declined by more than 60% following decriminalization.
• The percentage of people behind bars in Portugal for drug law violations also decreased dramatically, from 44% in 1999 to 24% in 2013.
“Substance misuse has been a problem I have worked with since 1999 and have seen the problem escalate throughout Maine,” Perry said, adding, “This is costing us too much and treatment is much cheaper than incarceration and in loss of lives and property.”