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Maine Lawmakers Vote To Gut Drug Decriminalization Bill And Establish A Task Force To Study Reform Instead



Maine lawmakers have gutted a bill to decriminalize drug possession and invest in treatment resources, amending it in committee to simply create a task force to study the proposed reform.

The legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee unanimously voted to replace the original measure from Rep. Lydia Crafts (D) on Thursday.

As introduced, the measure would have repealed statutes criminalizing possession of Schedule W, X, Y and Z drugs and paraphernalia under state code. It also would have established a Substance Use, Health and Safety Fund under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The legislature would have needed to annually appropriate funds for the department to make investments to “increase voluntary access to community care for persons who need services related to substance use.”

But during a work session, members of the committee moved to strike those provisions, replacing it with the task force language instead.

“I would just like to say that I continue to stand very firmly behind my initial proposal, and I think that it’s important that the work we’re doing as a state continues to be framed through a public health lens,” Crafts said. “I believe that this work is not finished through this task force, and there will be more to do in the future.”

The revised legislation as described in committee would create a panel consisting of experts and legislative appointees, including people with backgrounds in public health and safety, substance misuse treatment and law enforcement.

The task force would be responsible for reviewing decriminalization policies in other jurisdictions, scholarly research on the impact of the reform, possible implications for drug courts, the outcomes of diverse programs for people with substance misuse disorders and more. A report with findings would be due by November 6, 2024.

“We are firmly committed to making a difference for the people who are affected by this,” another member said at Thursday’s hearing. “I hope that many of us will be back. We are committed to making a difference. I know these are small steps, and I know we wanted to do a lot more, but the commitment is there.”

Even if the original legislation had advanced through committee, it would have faced major obstacles on the path forward, with Gov. Janet Mills (D) and the GOP Senate leader voicing opposition to enacting decriminalization.

While Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, an earlier drug decriminalization bill was rejected by the Senate in 2021 after narrowly passing the House.

This is the second piece of drug policy reform legislation to get significantly watered down in the Maine legislature this month.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Another committee voted recently to replace the language of a bill that initially would have legalized psilocybin and provided regulated access for adult with a measure that would establish a commission tasked with studying and making recommendations on regulating access to psychedelic services.

Lat week, the Judiciary Committee approved a bill to let people apply to have their marijuana conviction records sealed, but defeated separate legislation to make the relief automatic.

Lawmakers in January also rejected a bill that would have fully removed marijuana from the state’s criminal code, including a repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for certain activities involving unlawful amounts of cannabis. It also would have required automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions.

At the same time, Maine’s legal cannabis market has seen record-breaking sales in recent months, and the governor signed into law a bill last year to provide tax relief for the state marijuana industry.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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