Feb 2, 2024

Maine legislators recently held a public hearing concerning a decriminalization bill. This bill aims to decriminalize the possession of illegal drugs and increase investment in treatment for substance abuse disorders. The Health and Human Services Committee will review this bill, LD 1975, and consider its effects. 

One such effect includes the repeal of current statutes that make possession of Schedule W, X, Y, and Z drugs, as well as drug paraphernalia, illegal. Additionally, LD 1975 would establish a Substance Use, Health, and Safety Fund. These Schedules include all controlled substances classified as scheduled drugs within the state. As such, LD 1975 would legalize all recreational drugs, including cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and opioids, among others. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needs this legislation to allocate funds yearly; it would start sometime by June 30, 2024. The Department would use these funds to make investments in more community care. This project would assist individuals with substance use disorders and be available voluntarily. Furthermore, service providers could receive grants from these funds to help struggling individuals further. Grant recipients must provide services to individuals free of charge, though they may seek reimbursement from insurance providers.

According to Representative Crafts, removing the penalty for possession would stop criminalizing some substances. She also explained the difficulties individuals face due to substance abuse disorders, even without incarceration. As such, LD 1975’s public health approach would help people rebuild their lives through evidence-based medical intervention. It would also provide vital social support and increased connections. Representative Crafts believes incarceration impedes this goal.

The measure has received considerable mixed reactions from stakeholders. The competing opposition and support stems from a fundamental disagreement over the best way to address substance abuse. One stance that both sides agree upon is the importance of treatment and recovery. However, those opposing LD 1975 believe decriminalizing the possession of controlled substances would only enable their use. Conversely, supporters argue that criminalization stigmatizes those who need treatment for their addictions.

Currently, the future of the legislation remains uncertain at best. Due to the current reactions, it may never proceed and become law. Employers should watch Maine legislators debate LD 1975 and prepare for what may come. For example, they could review their policies concerning criminal records related to substance abuse. Providing second chances to those with criminal backgrounds could expand the labor pool of potential workers. One way to get started is by working with an employment screening provider experienced in second-chance-hiring.


Information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and should not constitute as legal advice. We recommend you contact your own legal counsel for any questions regarding your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.