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Bill seeking to legalize drug trafficking would only worsen Maine’s drug problem

Before adjourning three weeks early, the Maine state legislature was considering a new bill entitled “LD 1492: An Act to Reform Drug Sentencing Laws.” With the bill’s passage, Maine would see drastically relaxed regulations regarding drug possession and trafficking. This bill would punish society instead of drug dealers and users and thus is not the legislature Maine needs.

The bill would greatly loosen Maine’s drug conviction standards. Under this bill, possession of heroin or fentanyl powder would no longer be classified as either “trafficking” or “furnishing.” Additionally, an individual could possess 17.5 times as much heroin, oxycodone, methamphetamine or fentanyl powder in order to be a “schedule W” offender which is the most serious drug offense. Representative Charlotte Warren, the bill’s sponsor, argues that Maine has overly harsh and punitive drug laws compared to other states. Warren claims that women, minorities and families are unfairly impacted by severe drug restrictions and that a more rehabilitative approach would be more effective. Though well intentioned, this legislature is encouraging the toleration of drug abuse, which it should not.

This bill is part of a broader state effort to relax penalties for drug usage and selling, like when Maine voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. According to the Bangor Daily News, certain candidates for the 2019 Bangor city council election argued that Bangor’s police department should act more leniently towards drugs, and construct “supervised injection sites” where the city would legally provide drug users with clean needles. The state has also pushed for Narcolexone to be available in schools and community hubs to reverse overdose symptoms. Now, we are seeing the legislature propose this bill, LD 1492, which would largely decriminalize drug usage and trafficking of heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and others.

These efforts to decriminalize and normalize drug usage are unacceptable. It is understood that the logic behind this bill is to “give a second chance,” or to rehabilitate instead of convict. Instead, our state is increasingly accommodating drug users and dealers. Drugs do not exist in a vacuum and society bears the burden of reckless individuals who decide to use drugs. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that as high as 70% of male prisoners are drug abusers. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that upwards of 25% of any violent or property crimes pertain to drug usage, over 60% of burglaries or robberies are done by drug users and over 12% of all violent offenses are to obtain drug money. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 30-60% of prison populations regularly use drugs, and 70% of local jail inmates had committed a drug offense. Without fear of punishment, criminals will have greater incentives to purchase, sell and use drugs.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) even states that: “Substance abuse affects … society as a whole through increases in crime, domestic violence, highway fatalities, incarceration, and healthcare costs.” Contrary to certain contemporary ideologies, drug addiction is not a disease. It is a choice. People who choose to ingest toxic substances, knowing that they are illegal, addictive and correlated with violence, should be held accountable for their actions. Legalizing drugs would punish society with higher costs and crime rates, instead of punishing drug dealers.

The BOP recommends that state and local prisons should “wean” inmates off of drugs through administering smaller doses of less severe versions of the addictive substances. These practices have been implemented in prisons nationwide. However, unless the withdrawal symptoms would be lethal or otherwise severely damaging, there is no need to spend taxpayer dollars on accommodating drug abusers with synthetic drugs to reduce withdrawal symptoms. With or without access to drugs, prisoners will “dry out” in prison. Our nation and state must stop accommodating criminals who engage in destructive behaviors that have proven correlations to adverse effects in society. Every drug user’s addiction begins with their first decision to ingest drugs.

It is ridiculous that our legislature is even considering decriminalizing dangerous drugs. By passing this bill into law, our state would not be rehabilitating drug users; it would instead be enabling them. Considering how the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that Maine had 360 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017, we should not be legalizing the use or sale of such drugs. This statistic does not even include all of the other crimes surrounding drug addictions, such as burglaries, theft, assaults and others. Drugs destroy lives, families and communities, but enabling drug dealers and criminals is not the answer.

Instead of legalizing drugs, our state should focus more on: educating our youth about the dangers of drugs; more closely monitoring “big pharma” for pushing doctors to sell addictive painkillers; cracking down on drug dealers with trained law enforcement; penalizing drug selling and abuse with the “teeth” needed to discourage abuse; and not accommodating citizens or inmates by giving them access to drugs. 

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