BHRC’s Position on Amendments to SB420 (Paraphernalia Decriminalization)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Proposed policy Criminal Law – Drug Paraphernalia for Administration – Decriminalization (House Bill 372 and Senate Bill 420) has the potential to become law this year, increasing public health and safety. Over the past week, the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB372 (91-39) and the Maryland Senate passed SB420 with amendments (31-16). Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC) and our community is proud of the work towards decriminalization thus far, especially the efforts of bill champions Senator Jill Carter and Delegate David Moon.

If passed as written, House Bill 372 would: 1) redefine “controlled” paraphernalia to support public health and reduce drug war tactics that target drug users; 2) repeal existing portions of law that criminalize possession of paraphernalia for personal use; and, 3) reduce or eliminate penalty for possession of paraphernalia for delivery or sale. If passed as amended, Senate Bill 420 would not include #3 above, continuing to criminalize possession of paraphernalia.

BHRC does not agree with the amendments to SB420 and urges the Maryland legislature to move HB372 without amendments. We deeply value Senator Carter for working tirelessly for this policy, and understand the challenges posed by Senators Ready, Cassily, and Hough. However, the amendments to SB420 would allow for police involvement and prosecution of people carrying paraphernalia if said officers determine the supplies are for delivery, distribution, or sale. These amendments would continue to put the health and safety of our workers and our communities at risk.

Just last Thursday March 25, a participant of an authorized syringe service program in Baltimore City was arrested and jailed for attempting to bring items considered paraphernalia to a loved one in another county who needed these life-saving supplies. This SSP participant was, and continues to be, punished for trying to help someone achieve greater safety and serve public health goals. Regardless of whether or not the charges are dropped, this person has had their life turned upside down, spent multiple days risking exposure to COVID and not been able to attend to their loved ones. 

This story is too common in Maryland, and this is why we need to decriminalize possession of paraphernalia under any circumstance right now. If distribution, delivery, and sales of paraphernalia are not protected, our state’s public health is under threat.  

If the Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR) Committee does not agree to the House version, members of JPR and the House Judiciary Committee will need to decide on a version of the bill in conference committee. This would further delay the process and clog the urgent agenda of these busy committees. 

Maryland must decriminalize paraphernalia now and ensure that, as Delegate David Moon says, “the syringe does not come with jail.” We are requesting that JPR support HB372 as written to ensure that the logic of the law is sound and that there are no major loopholes to re-criminalize people for carrying life-saving supplies. 

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