Pubdate: Fri, 08 May 2015
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2015 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Scott Gagnon


This Friday at the State House, the Committee on Criminal Justice and 
Public Safety will have a work session on LD 113, An Act to Reduce 
the Penalties for Certain Drug Offenses. The bill is sponsored by 
Senator Roger Katz of Kennebec. The bill, in part, looks to downgrade 
punishments associated with possession of heroin and methamphetamine, 
two drugs that have been especially problematic in Maine. The bill 
would downgrade possession of these Class W drugs from a Class C 
Felony crime to a Class D Misdemeanor crime.

Class D crimes come with a maximum 364 days in jail while Class C 
felonies come with up to 5 year prison terms. The bill also 
downgrades other penalties including possession of hypodermic needles.

While it has support from many organizations, some reporting suggests 
the bill faces opposition from the Governor as well as some in law enforcement.

 From my perspective, this truly is a smart approach to dealing with 
substance abuse in Maine. Senator Katz has stressed that the aim of 
this bill is to deal with those addicted to these drugs, not those 
dealing the drugs.

Those who are trafficking drugs in our communities, dealing to kids, 
strict penalties are still quite appropriate for them. This is an 
important distinction and one we must continue to work on as a state.

Drug addiction is a disease of the brain, and like a disease of any 
other part of our body, it requires a health approach, not a criminal 
justice approach.

We will never arrest our way out of the substance abuse issues facing 
our state.

Meanwhile, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the police department there 
this week unveiled new policies to shift the balance to a more 
health-oriented approach to dealing with their heroin crisis.

If an individual comes to the department with the remainder of their 
drugs and/or drug equipment (e.g. needles), the police will not issue 
an arrest, but instead, essentially issue a referral to detox and the 
first steps towards treatment and recovery.

In another move, the police department will use the money seized from 
drug dealers to fund supplies of Narcan at local pharmacies. The 
opiate overdose antidote will be available to individuals, whether or 
not they have insurance.

The police spokesperson said it best:

"We have to take the stigma away from alcoholism and drug 
addiction... Because the people aren't bad people, they're addicted people."

And that's just it, we must continue to work on reducing stigma 
around substance abuse, whether it is alcohol, marijuana, or heroin.

Smart policies such as these two examples are important tools in that 
effort. The focus of some to legalize drugs misses the mark. It 
sidesteps the issues of addiction and criminal justice and does 
nothing to advance getting more Mainers the help they need and deserve.

Instead of legalizing drugs and creating more drug abuse issues, 
let's come together and create more of these innovative policies that 
will actually create change and get more people on the path of wellness.

About Scott Gagnon Scott Gagnon is an experienced substance abuse 
prevention professional. He is the Manager of Substance Abuse and 
Tobacco Prevention Services at Healthy Androscoggin. Scott also 
serves as the Director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a 
non-partisan, all-volunteer alliance of Mainers dedicated to 
informing public policy with the science of today's marijuana. Scott 
is the President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling, and is a 
member of the Governor's Substance Abuse Services Commission. Scott 
is the 2013 winner of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse 
Prevention Award.
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