“It could kill the whole –” admits sponsor of bill to relax fentanyl, heroin trafficking laws in Maine at public hearing

Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center (D – Rockland) is the sponsor of L.D. 1492, which would relax the laws around the trafficking and furnishing of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. To the right is the amount of fentanyl the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says can be fatal.

AUGUSTA – The sponsor of a bill that would relax Maine’s laws around trafficking of cocaine, heroine and fentanyl testified before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in favor of her bill today and nearly let slip what a lot of people already know about her proposal.

Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center (D – Rockland) said she was open to compromising on the bill, but did not give up hope on the bill’s passage in some form. At times during the hearing she seemed eager to get distance from the details of her proposal, but at other times, aggressively pushed for support for her bill.

Rep. Beebe-Center also nearly admitted that she knew how deadly the quantity of fentanyl powder that her bill would allow someone to possess without facing charges of drug trafficking or furnishing charges could actually be.

One provision of the bill would allow an individual to possess up to 3.5 grams of fentanyl powder without being charged with trafficking the drug.

When asked if she knew how much 3.5 grams of fentanyl would cost by a member of the committee, Rep. Beebe-Center responded, “A lot, but I also know it could kill the whole…,” before trailing off.

Listen as Rep. Beebe-Center nearly admits to a legislative committee how deadly the quantity of fentanyl she proposes allowing people to possess without facing trafficking charges actually is.

A moment later, Rep. Beebe-Center continued, “I, uh, I don’t know how much the exact amount is but I know it’s a huge amount and I know that’s much too much for powdered fentanyl.”

At another point, Rep. Beebe-Center said she didn’t think powdered fentanyl should be at that high a level, but the bill was “to get the conversation going.”

Beebe-Center also, when asked about her bill’s proposal to abolish some of the laws around “furnishing” drugs by eliminating provisions that would make someone guilty of furnishing drugs by having a certain number of bags or containers of the drugs in question, said that everything was all negotiable and that her bill was meant as a starting point.

Numerous people testified in favor of the bill, including a representative from the “Church of Safe Injection” and several people who said they have recovered from drug addiction. The Maine People’s Alliance also submitted testimony in support of the bill, urging members of the committee to vote “Ought to Pass.”

Currently, possession of 2 grams of fentanyl powder or heroin along with 90 bags is defined as trafficking, but Rep. Beebe-Center’s bill, L.D. 1492, strikes those provisions from the law completely. The bill also strikes similar language from the definition of ‘furnishing’ heroin or fentanyl powder and relaxes the legal language that defines the drugs.

The bill also changes the law covering the possession of the drugs cocaine, heroine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methamphetamine and fentanyl powder by increasing the amount that can be possessed without criminal penalties and relaxes the class of crime that such possession is punishable under.

Currently, possession of 2 grams of any of those drugs is punishable as a Class C (felony level) crime, but under Rep. Beebe-Center’s proposal, that possession threshold would be relaxed to a possession threshold of up to 3.5 grams and reduced to a Class D crime.

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency says a dose of 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. Under Rep. Beebe-Center’s proposed changes, a person could be in possession of about 1,750 doses of fentanyl at the deadly 2 mg level and only be charged with what is commonly called a misdemeanor level crime.

Two milligrams of fentanyl is roughly the equivalent of 5 to 7 grains of table salt, according to the DEA.

At the public hearing, Rep. Beebe-Center said that the new limit of 3.5 grams was based on a belief that a person should be allowed to possess more doses of the drugs for their personal use without being charged with furnishing or trafficking drugs.

In response to Rep. Janice Cooper (D – Yarmouth) calling the bill a “short step” philosophically from where we already are, Rep. Beebe-Center agreed and said that because she sees drug addiction as a public health issue, someone with a drug addiction “Having what they need on them for that habit is not a crime, we have made it a crime,” and that she feels it should not be a crime.

L.D. 1492 will have a work session before being sent out to the full House and Senate for consideration.

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