ANNAPOLIS — A state senator is promising to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would have decriminalized possession of syringes, needles and drug paraphernalia. Police will sometimes use a state law prohibiting some drug paraphernalia to add onto other charges in drug cases.
Hogan nixed Senate Bill 420 as part of a series of vetoes on Wednesday. The Republican governor cited public safety concerns in his veto message.
Maryland Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, was the sponsor of the bill which aimed to decriminalize possession of needles and other paraphernalia She promised to override the veto in the Maryland General Assembly.
“We. Will. Override,” Carter said in a social media statement.
The Maryland State Medical Society also backs the bill.
“Senate Bill 420 would decriminalize possession of items that can be used to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise consume a controlled dangerous substance. Reducing the harm caused by substance use has been a priority of the General Assembly,” the medical group said in support of the bill during the 2021 session in Annapolis. “The decriminalization of paraphernalia proposed by this legislation will continue to help ensure that people are accessing services, such as syringe service programs, and will avoid unnecessary arrest and incarceration.”
Backers of SB 420 say changing state laws on needles and drug items is needed to shift away from “the war on drugs” approaches that have resulted in prison sentences and social upheavals. “It was a step towards treating addiction as the public health crisis it is. This veto is not only misguided & sad, it further compromises public safety,” Carter said.
State Del. David Moon, D-Silver Spring, is another top proponent of decriminalization efforts. Moon said via social media that Maryland has some tough laws when it comes to drug paraphernalia.
“Maryland is particularly harsh on syringe possession – it comes with up to 4 years in prison. As a result, users dump syringes in public places, hide them from police & share needles. Is this really where we’re at in 2021,” Moon said.
“SB 420 is a dangerous bill that completely erases the illegality of certain controlled dangerous substance paraphernalia by legalizing the delivery, sale, manufacturing, and possession of these dangerous and damaging items. This is an ill-advised policy change that does nothing to remove drug dealers from our streets or reduce opioid-related fatalities, and instead encourages the use and possession of paraphernalia associated with drug use. If enacted, this bill would permit drug dealers to stockpile large quantities of paraphernalia, such as needles and syringes, and sell it to vulnerable individuals suffering from addiction,” Hogan said in his veto message.
The state and parts of the Eastern Shore have seen increases in fentanyl and opioid overdoses during the social isolations and job losses of the pandemic. Hogan said the state needs other approaches to address the rise in fatal overdoses.