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Report: Maine bears staggering social, monetary costs associated with drug criminalization

This undated photo provided by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency shows a marble cake which contained about 2 pounds of cocaine, and cash, seized from a vehicle in Gardiner, Maine. A New York man and a Maine woman are facing charges, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, after the cocaine disguised as a cake was seized from their vehicle, authorities said.
AP
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Maine Drug Enforcement Agency
This undated photo provided by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency shows a marble cake which contained about 2 pounds of cocaine, and cash, seized from a vehicle in Gardiner, Maine. A New York man and a Maine woman are facing charges, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, after the cocaine disguised as a cake was seized from their vehicle, authorities said.

A new report from the ACLU of Maine and the Maine Center for Economic Policy finds that prosecution and incarceration associated with drug use and possession are costing the state more than $100 million a year.

ACLU Policy Director Meagan Sway says the social consequences are also staggering given that most of the arrests are for small amounts of drugs and that Black people are three-and-a-half times more likely to be charged with possession than White people in Maine.

"These disparities are worse when we look at drug trafficking charges, even when we exclude out-of-state residents, and the harms of those disparities compound," she says, "so that we start with a disproportionate number of arrests and then from there a disproportionate number of Black people are charged and prosecuted and then they face longer prison sentences and the harms just compound."

Lead author Winifred Tate, an associate professor of anthropology and the director of the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College, says there's a clear consensus for a public health approach to address the needs of people with substance use disorder, but current policies do not back that up.

"The vast majority of people who use drugs do not experience problematic substance use but people with physical dependence or substance use disorder consume drugs to maintain their baseline physical well-being," she says.

The report authors are calling for the decriminalization of drug use and possession and for investment in drug treatment, recovery-related housing and mental health services using part of the state's unprecedented budget surplus of $1.2 billion.

This story will be updated.