AUGUSTA — A bill by state Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) that decriminalizes the possession of hypodermic syringes was signed into law last week.
The measure, which received unanimous support in the Legislature, aims to improve public health and ensure more Mainers affected by drug use and substance use disorder can access sterile supplies, support services and treatment. The goal is to prevent the spread of infections from used syringes, reduce overdose deaths and divert people away from the criminal justice system.
“This is an important victory for Maine’s harm reduction and recovery communities and for public health,” said McDonald. “The opioid epidemic requires a sharper focus on support, treatment and prevention. With this law in place, we will be able to reach more people when they are most vulnerable to overdose or unsafe choices and get them the support they need to enter into treatment without the additional obstacles and disruptions that come with entering the criminal justice system.”
LD 994 eliminates the crime of illegal possession of hypodermic syringes. Additionally, possessing a hypodermic syringe with residue of drugs will no longer be considered criminal possession of those drugs. Providing hypodermic syringes to others who may not be able to obtain them on their own will no longer be considered an act of illegal trafficking. Finally, the bill declassifies other items used for safer drug use, as well as testing strips and other items used to determine the contents of a drug from “drug paraphernalia.”
Under outgoing Maine law, possessing 11 or more hypodermic syringes, even when unused, was a Class D crime. Violations resulted in sentences of up to 354 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
“Laws such as this one provide us the tools we need to help our friends, neighbors and loved ones reclaim their lives before it’s too late,” said McDonald. “This law will help stop the spread of devastating, preventable infections like HIV and have a positive impact on the health and safety of our community members as well as our healthcare system. In 2020, we lost 504 of our fellow Mainers to overdoses, a figure which does not include other preventable deaths related to drug use. We are on the same trajectory in 2021.”
More than 58 people and organizations submitted testimony in support of McDonald’s bill during a public hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in April, including the Maine Department of Public Safety. The committee voted 11-1 to recommend the measure’s passage.
McDonald’s measure will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
McDonald, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee and a member of the Marine Resources Committee, is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents the Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Vinalhaven and Marshall Island Township.