THE FUNDING MESS When legislative analysts put a "fiscal note" on the bill, it was for around $300,000 in ongoing annual costs to state government. But this sum assumed only one brand-new offense per year in the criminal-justice system, plus two offenses that the new law would require treating as more serious crimes.

The Democratic senator on the Appropriations Committee, Dawn Hill, of Cape Neddick, said the appropriation seemed low, "given what we're told about the extent of the epidemic."

On the other hand, Senator Elizabeth Schneider, an Orono Democrat, wondered how, given the demands on the state budget, a pool of money "miraculously" appeared for the criminalization of bath salts.

THE FUNDAMENTAL ADDICTION As LD 1589 neared passage, Senate Democrats complained about the harshness of the "furnishing" penalties: up to five years in prison for giving bath salts to a friend at a party. Senator Nancy Sullivan, of Biddeford, was wary of turning young people "who make a dumb mistake" into felons.

But Portland's Anne Haskell, the Criminal Justice Committee lead House Democrat, and Plummer, Republican chairman, told House members about their committee's hard work on the bill. Out of deference the House voted unanimously to adhere to its previous passage.

Then two women House members linked arms with Plummer, an older man, and smartly marched him down the hall to confront the weak-minded senators. The Senate Democrats relented after having obtained, they said, a promise from Republican leadership that the issue will be taken up in the 2012 session.

Legislators would be seen as "soft on crime" if they didn't go forward with the bill, Sullivan said.

So political fear or opportunism played a part in the bill's passage. Dion explained his support for the bath-salts bill by saying "to object you'd have to hold the whole system upside down."

Breaking an addiction is hard.

Lance Tapley can be reached

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