ACLU of Maine Calls on Lawmakers to Amend State’s Harsh Felony Drug Trafficking Law

The bill, LD 1675, would require prosecutors to show proof of intent to sell to bring a felony drug trafficking charge

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
May 14, 2021 11:00 am

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The ACLU of Maine is testifying in support of a bill that would move Maine away from imposing excessive criminal penalties for minor drug possession at a public hearing in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee this morning. LD 1675, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (Portland), would amend Maine’s felony drug trafficking law so that prosecutors must show proof of intent to sell to bring the charge.

Right now, prosecutors in Maine may bring this serious charge, which carries 10 – 30 years imprisonment, based solely on the weight of certain drugs. Thirty-nine other states require prosecutors to show proof of intent to sell to bring a felony drug trafficking charge.

The bill would also remove weight disparities between powder cocaine and crack cocaine in Maine’s drug trafficking and furnishing laws.

“Harsh drug laws do not help people with substance use disorder get better or find success,” said Meagan Sway, policy director of the ACLU of Maine. “Amending Maine’s felony drug trafficking law to require the government to have evidence of drug trafficking, not just of drug possession, would help us avoid derailing lives with serious prison time and lifelong criminal records.”

Racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws are most apparent in serious drug offenses, such as felony drug trafficking. Black individuals represented less than two percent of Maine’s population in 2018, yet accounted for 21 percent of Class A drug arrests and 15 percent of Class B drug arrests.

“In an effort to go after drug traffickers, the Legislature has given the government shortcuts to take away people’s liberties,” Sway continues. “This unfairly weights criminal cases in favor of the government and violates basic tenets of due process of law. But these shortcuts have not kept our community members safer: deaths from drug overdoses are higher than they have ever been, killing 11 people a week.”

LD 1675 is among a series of drug reform bills the Legislature is considering this session to move Maine away from excessive punishment for minor drug possession and substance use disorder to public health interventions. Other bills, LD 967 and LD 994, received overwhelming support at public hearings. LD 994 passed out of committee on a 12-1 vote of support.

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