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Maine voters support drug treatment over criminal prosecution, survey finds

A drug user in Lewiston, Maine, puts used needles into a sharps container to be exchanged for clean needles.
Jesse Costa/WBUR
A drug user in Lewiston, Maine, puts used needles into a sharps container to be exchanged for clean needles.

A new survey from University of Maine researchers finds that a majority of Maine voters support shifting state drug policy away from criminal prosecution in favor of treatment.

Robert Glover, associate professor of political science, said said 74% of respondents supported decriminalization for low-level drug offenses.

"The characteristics of those who are supporting those sorts of efforts, we found that it really held up across dividing lines. So things like one's political party or one's religious affiliation. Whether you live in a rural community or urban community. It's pretty broad-based support across the state," he said.

Glover said researchers surveyed more than 400 Mainers across party lines, and support was broad across demographics.

"We were surprised to find... the extent of support for decriminalization. Which is typically cast by policymakers as kind of a radical step, but we're seeing that Mainers don't really view it that way. They view the existing approach as flawed and they're ready for pretty significant alternatives," he said.

Glover said he hopes the survey will be used by lawmakers as they consider state policies aimed at reducing drug overdoses and deaths.

Last year, Maine saw more than 600 overdose deaths, a state record.