The Maryland Senate moved to “indefinitely postpone” consideration of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would have decriminalized drug paraphernalia possession.
Senate Bill 420 was approved by Maryland’s legislature during the 2021 session. The measure would have abolished criminal sanctions for possessing equipment used to consume illicit substances.
Public health professionals and harm reduction advocates contend that the current criminalization of drug paraphernalia in Maryland leads to adverse health and safety outcomes for individuals who use drugs as well as the public at large.
Criminalization makes drug paraphernalia scarcer, so people are more likely to share equipment like syringe needles, which increases the risk of contracting and spreading blood-borne diseases and illnesses. The threat of arrest also makes it more likely that drug users will discard drug paraphernalia in public areas.
“Criminalization of paraphernalia is dangerous for all Marylanders, including those who do not use illicit substances, because it increases the likelihood that the public at large and law enforcement personnel can be directly harmed,” said Scott Cecil, regional ambassador of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition.
“Under continued paraphernalia criminalization, people who use drugs will continue to be reluctant to hold onto their supplies due to the fear that the police will use possession of these items as a means to search and arrest them.”
However, Gov. Hogan took a different view in deciding to use his power of veto to nullify the approved legislation last month.
Senate lawmakers had the opportunity to override the governor’s veto in a special session convened this month, but decided not to force the issue.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said the drug paraphernalia question was “a really complex issue” that deserved more attention, and suggested that Maryland lawmakers should be open to other comprehensive approaches to preventing drug deaths such as the creation of safe consumption sites.
Sen. Jill Carter (D) sponsored Senate Bill 420 and said the decision not to override Hogan’s veto on the measure is “heartbreaking.”
“I’m gonna just assume that there were people that had hesitation about voting for it in an election year because of the implications that somehow this means you’re like ‘pro-drug abuse’ or something, which, of course, we’re not,” Carter said after the floor session. “It’s about saving lives.”
Carter then went on to say she intends to reintroduce the bill in the 2022 session.