AUGUSTA — A bill that would have decriminalized drug possession in Maine was replaced Thursday with a proposal to form a task force to study the issue.

In addition to repealing laws making the possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia a crime, the original version would also have established a dedicated fund using taxes generated from the sale of cannabis products and other revenue to expand treatment, mental health, peer support and harm reduction services.

It would also have established crisis-receiving centers in each county where patients could get health-needs assessments, screenings for substance use disorder treatment, support for basic needs and connections to treatment, harm reduction and recovery services.

But lawmakers on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to replace the bill, L.D. 1975, with a proposal for a task force to study decriminalization and changes to the legal status of drug possession offenses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Crafts, D-Newcastle, had three Republican co-sponsors but was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills as originally written. The amended version now advances to votes in the House and Senate.

At a public hearing in January, the bill drew dozens of supporters who argued that substance use and addiction should be treated as public health issues, not crimes. Opponents warned of unintended consequences, including hindering the work of court-ordered programs that help people with substance use disorder, and risks to public safety.


Courtney Gary-Allen, organizing director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, said Thursday that the committee’s vote was disappointing.

“I don’t think we need a study,” said Gary-Allen, who supports decriminalization. “I think they should just kill the bill and I hope the House of Representatives or Senate does that because I don’t think we need to spend time, energy or money to study this.”

Instead, Gary-Allen said, lawmakers and stakeholders should focus on areas where they are more likely to build consensus, like the development of overdose prevention centers that could provide people with a safe place to use substances.

“It’s not a great vote but let’s all move on to things we can find common ground on,” Gary-Allen said.

Crafts, the bill sponsor, also submitted to the committee an amendment that would have increased the amount of certain drugs that would trigger a possession charge as an alternative to broader decriminalization.

She said before the vote that she still stands behind her initial proposal. “I think it’s important that the work we’re doing as a state continue to be framed through a public health lens,” she said.


“I believe this work is not finished through this task force and there will be more to do in the future,” she added.

The amendment approved Thursday does not mention crisis-receiving centers, but the committee’s legislative analyst noted during discussion that receiving centers have also been proposed in several other bills this legislative session. Maine now has one crisis-receiving center, in Portland, and the state is working on opening a second one in Kennebec County.

The governor’s supplemental budget proposal includes money for a new crisis-receiving center in Lewiston and instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to plan for and develop a network of such centers.

L.D. 2237, sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, would establish crisis-receiving centers in Penobscot and Aroostook counties. That bill has been approved by both chambers and is awaiting funding.

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