According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bath salts' overdose effects are "consistent with intoxication with stimulants." Like many drugs, it's poisonous in an overdose. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration says "numerous individuals have presented at emergency departments in response to exposure incidents and several cases of acute toxicity have been reported," including several deaths.
• THE DETERRENCE ARGUMENT When a drug becomes illegal, the demand will be reduced, proponents argued. Generally, this has not happened with other drugs. When a drug becomes illegal, dealers often become more aggressive because they can make serious money selling at a high price. "Get ready for a brand-new black market because bath salts are here to stay," Shane Heathers, of Bowdoin, a user, told the Criminal Justice Committee.
In an interview, Berry couldn't point to hard evidence for criminalization's deterrent effect on drug use. He relied, he said, on what the law-enforcement community was telling him.
Mark Dion, the former Cumberland County sheriff and now a Portland Democratic state representative, was skeptical in an interview of the "core assumption that criminals engage in cost-benefit analysis and their conduct is rational." He called bath-salts criminalization a "moral panic." But he voted for the bill anyway.
• INCARCERATION VERSUS EDUCATION AND TREATMENT "Far too often, penalties actually make things worse," testified Berry, making another point against the criminalization he was promoting. Plus, he said — and other legislators made the same case — every dollar spent on treatment programs saves $7 that would be spent by dealing with users as criminals.
"Where do you see the treatment coming in?" Representative Gary Plummer, of Windham, the Republican House chairman of Criminal Justice, asked Berry about LD 1589.
"I don't know," Berry replied.
No money for treatment or education was in the bill, just money for indigent defense and keeping people in prison.
Eric Haram, president of the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, told committee members that access to a treatment program "may be a significant problem."
At the "epidemic" epicenter, the Penobscot County Adult Drug Treatment Court is being shut down. "This decision doesn't leave us with a lot of options beyond incarceration," Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, was quoted as saying in the Bangor Daily News. "I haven't seen any addicts come out of incarceration ready to be a new person."
• HOW TO MANUFACTURE CAREER CRIMINALS If a vehicle is used in the crime, the new law allows a judge to take away a driver's license for up to five years from someone convicted of furnishing (sharing), or trafficking in, bath salts — after the sentence has been served. This would virtually eliminate, in a rural state, the ex-prisoner's re-integration into the community in a career other than the chief one taught in prison, criminality.
Some legislators, not having read the bill (though it was one of only two in the session), hadn't known this provision was in it, including former sheriff Dion. When he learned about it, he scurried off to see if it could be deleted. But it turned out to do so would require rewriting laws regulating other drugs, since the provision is common in them.