Paraphernalia Will Be Decriminalized in Maryland

One month ago on May 26, 2021, Maryland Governor Hogan made yet another policy decision demonstrating his dedication to the racist war on drugs. On this day, he vetoed SB420 which would have decriminalized possession of paraphernalia for administration (aka personal drug use).  

In his official letter to Senate President Ferguson (link), Governor Hogan made exaggerated, inaccurate, harmful claims. Claims which stirred the fears that uphold our society’s implicit and explicit biases against people who use and/or sell drugs. 

Will we fight back? Of course.

Will we win? Absolutely.

As we know from decades of prior activism, it is necessary to take a pause for reflection, especially when hurt and tired. At BHRC, we have taken this past month to process our grief and regenerate power for the long haul. We have witnessed the love and the outrage from harm reduction advocates and allies across the state (and country) pouring in. As we enter the summer season, we are feeling a deeper sense of clarity on what to do next, and let me tell you, our power is strong! 

It is important to remember that our community’s social justice policy advocacy efforts convinced the majority of Maryland elected officials to vote in favor of paraphernalia decriminalization. In voting for the bill, Senate President Ferguson stated that the drug war needs to end. Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Smith stated that Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition’s strong messaging (i.e. incessant calls and emails by you!) convinced him to support this policy.

SB420 was the only bill passed by our 2021 Maryland Legislature designed to significantly curb the epidemics of overdose and over-policing in communities targeted by the drug war. It passed during an historic virtual legislative session, only days after legislators made astounding strides in police reform. This is remarkable. Maryland’s harm reduction advocates — you — are truly amazing.

Now it is up to the 2022 Maryland Legislative to override this devastating decision early next year. We must ensure the State recognizes the will of the elected body and those who put these people in power. So, what do we have planned?

  1. Service delivery: We will not stop providing high quality harm reduction services, including life-saving paraphernalia, via our community outreach programming and safer drug use supply distribution.
  2. Policymaker engagement: We are planning our policy strategy with 2021 bill sponsors and legislative champions, Delegate David Moon and Senator Jill Carter. 
  3. Public education: We are developing public education opportunities and tools to deepen collective understanding of decriminalization as one of the means of ending the racist war on drugs.
  4. Community organizing: We are working with our partners via our organizing bodies — MHRAN and BRIDGES Coalition — and other social justice spaces, such as the People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland to keep gaining momentum.
  5. Uniting across movements: We are standing in solidarity with advocates and communities also impacted by Governor Hogan’s post-session vetoes, such as life-saving immigration and parole reform legislation. We will continue to support these measures in the coming years. 

Join us this summer for exciting opportunities to engage in these activities and continue the fight to decriminalize paraphernalia in Maryland!

Much love,

Rajani Gudlavalleti
director of mobilization
Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

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