In an op-ed for the Baltimore Brew, Rajani Gudlavalleti, director of mobilization with OSI-supported Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition urges Maryland lawmakers to override Governor Hogan’s veto of Senate Bill 420, which decriminalized the possession or distribution of drug paraphernalia.
“At a time when Baltimore’s overdose rate is among the highest in the nation” wrote Gudlavalleti, “it is clear that we need to use every tool in the prevention toolbox, including decriminalization.”
Overriding the veto, Gudlavalleti argues, would protect not only needle-exchange programs (which are authorized to hand out syringe needles) from citations and harassment, but also those Baltimoreans and Black Marylanders who are more likely to be arrested for possession of paraphernalia.
The author also goes on to point out that while Hogan’s justification for the veto — that it “does nothing . . . to reduce opioid-related fatalities . . . or help individuals seek or receive substance-use treatment” – experts testified at the hearing that improving access to supplies does not increase improperly discarded syringe needles, rates of drug use or other criminalized activity. “In fact,” Gudlavalleti writes, “myriad sources – academic researchers, peer outreach workers, medical professionals, people who use drugs – testified that reducing fear of carceral punishment increases the likelihood someone will feel safe accessing life-saving treatment.”
Gudlavelleti closes by urging lawmakers to make sure SB 420 becomes law. “In short, it will save lives.”