Less time for drug crimes in Maine? Lawmakers rethinking penalties

It’s Friday again in Augusta and for some reason, I like a soundtrack for my Friday mornings. How about some Sir Paul to celebrate the sun? There, that’s better. 

The House and Senate are in recess until Tuesday, but there are three legislative committees with busy days today. The Criminal Justice Committee has bills that would reduce some drug penalties on one hand and strengthen them on the other. 

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, who is an attorney, will introduce LD 113, An Act to Reduce the Penalties for Certain Drug Offices, at 9 a.m. today. Specifically, the bill would strike language in the law that says if you possess two grams or more of heroin, you’re a drug dealer. The bill also downgrades some drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Katz’s bill has the support of former chief justice of the Maine Judicial Court, Daniel Wathen, who is also a board member for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. 

“Our criminal justice system must not be a revolving door for people with low-level drug offenses,” said Wathen in a press release. “For years we have tried this approach and for years it has failed.”

More than half of the people incarcerated for drug offenses in Maine return to prison within three years of their release. This bill seeks to lower that number. 

Another bill being introduced to the committee today by its chairwoman, Sen. Kimberley Rosen, R-Bucksport, would strengthen certain drug laws, specifically those that involve fentanyl and the manufacture of methamphetamine. 

After the bill introductions, the committee will turn its attention to a series of bills it has been working on for weeks — and really, years — which have to do with concealed handgun permits and firearms use. Those bills are in work session, which means the committee may or may not vote on recommendations for the full Legislature. 

The Health and Human Services Committee has a full day of work sessions planned, including on a bill that would classify the use of electronic cigarettes as the same as smoking regular cigarettes

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will consider making recommendations on a series of bills related to gaming and gambling in Maine. Some of the bills are similar to proposals to expand gaming in tribal areas and other parts of Maine that have been tried and failed in recent years.

Part of the reason for the bills’ defeat — including the voting down of six gaming bills in one memorable Senate session in March 2014 — is that Maine still lacks an overall gaming strategy. Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, has proposed authorizing the Department of Public Safety and the Gambling Control Board to implement one.

Will this be the year that gaming is expanded and Maine’s tribes will benefit? I’m not a betting man, so we’ll have to just wait and see. — Christopher Cousins 

Pingree provision would boost water power projects in Maine

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st Congressional District has introduced a measure to an energy spending bill that would increase funding for the Department of Energy’s Water Power Program, which in the past has provided grants to the Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. and created more than 100 jobs in Maine.

ORPC has created tidal electricity generation projects in Maine and rural Alaska. Generating power from the tides has been a long-term goal which so far has not been implemented at a commercial level anywhere in the world.

“I’ve seen this program work firsthand in the state of Maine,” said Pingree in a press release. “Ocean Renewable Power Co. has taken advantage of this program and leveraged these modest investments into a company that has created or retained over 100 jobs in every part of our state and directly pumped over $25 million into our economy.”

Pingree’s amendment was added to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act, which passed in the House of Representatives early Friday morning.

Reading list

Strip naked and plant something

That’s kind of a weird suggestion, I know. Don’t shoot me; I’m just the messenger.

The BDN’s Natalie Feulner has astutely observed that tomorrow is Naked Gardening Day. With temps in Maine still feeling closer to winter than summer, I’d suggest you keep moving.

Just imagine the look on your neighbor’s face a few months from now at your dinner party as she’s biting your fresh-picked tomato and you say “I planted that when I was naked.” Hopefully she won’t say “yeah, I know.” — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.