A federal law intended to bully states into stripping the driver’s licenses of those with drug convictions is outdated and ineffective, and a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage that would bring Maine into line with this statute makes no sense.

The bill in question — L.D. 1637 — would suspend drug law violators’ licenses for six months. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee issued a divided report Wednesday on L.D. 1637; it now goes to the full Legislature for consideration.

Suspending licenses for drug convictions dates to the “tough on crime” early 1990s and the passage of a federal law tying a portion of highway funding to mandatory suspensions. However, only 12 states follow this policy to the letter. The rest have opted out and hung on to the federal funds under a provision that requires written certification from the governor or state legislative action.

Up until now, Maine has chosen the common-sense approach. All governors since John McKernan have been willing to attest to their opposition to the policy, including LePage.

That is, until last year, when he declared that the scope of Maine’s opioid crisis meant that the state would have to change course and implement mandatory suspension as a way to prevent more people from becoming addicted.

We agree that the urgency of this epidemic demands innovative thinking, but there are huge holes in this line of reasoning. Addiction isn’t a behavior that people choose after a cost-benefit analysis; it’s a disease, and whether someone develops an addiction is heavily influenced by risk factors such as genetics and mental illness that make people more susceptible.

The idea that mandatory suspension will prevent criminal activity hasn’t panned out, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. The group found in a six-state study that “driver license suspension for non-highway safety related reasons is ineffective in achieving compliance with non-highway safety violations.” In other words, the prospect of losing their driver’s license is the last thing on the mind of someone considering committing a drug offense.

Moreover, this punitive policy puts up new barriers to overcoming addiction at a time when we should be doing more to help people with addiction issues re-enter society. For someone with a criminal conviction, finding a job and earning a legal income is key to reconnecting with their community and staying out of trouble with the law. In a rural state like Maine where most people need to drive to get to work, having a suspended license puts a job seeker at an obvious disadvantage.

The Legislature has rejected five bills that would have enacted mandatory suspension for drug convictions. Anyone who wants to help the thousands of our fellow Mainers who are struggling with addiction should press their elected representatives in Augusta to vote against this one.

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