June 23, 2018
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Bangor Housing aims to stiffen penalties for drug crimes near its playgrounds

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Anyone caught trying to sell drugs near playgrounds owned by Bangor Housing Authority could face much stiffer penalties in the future.

The city’s Government Operations Committee backed the housing authority’s request to designate playgrounds at Griffin Park, 194 Griffin Road, and Birch Circle, 1160 Ohio St., as “drug-free safe zones” during a committee meeting earlier this week.

In 2005, the 122nd Maine Legislature passed “An Act to Protect Children Using Maine’s Athletic Fields and Parks from Drug Dealers.” Existing law already allowed for harsher penalties for drug crimes committed near schools or school buses, but this law added athletic fields, parks, playgrounds and recreational areas used by children to the list of protected areas.

Under the law, trafficking in schedule W drugs, such as methamphetamine or cocaine, usually a Class B crime, elevates to Class A when it’s within a “safe zone.” Trafficking a schedule Z drug, such as marijuana, jumps from Class D to Class C. Trafficking more than 20 pounds of marijuana becomes a Class A crime. Class A crimes carry the most severe penalties and are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, while less serious Class E crimes are punishable by up to six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine.

A city can only designate a safe zone if the facility is frequented by children and is clearly marked by signs informing people that it is a safe zone with stiffer drug crime penalties. The housing authority said it would cover all costs associated with the change, including the signs.

“This is just one more tool we can use to continue to have a strong stance against people using drugs around kids,” said Michael Myatt, executive director for Bangor Housing Authority.

Interim Bangor police Chief Peter Arno said prior to the committee meeting there have been “no problems in particular” with drug dealers in the areas around the housing authority parks, but that the statute would make it riskier and more difficult to purchase, deal or use illegal drugs in the area around the parks.

“Any drug dealer can attest to the fact that the enhanced penalties for dealing within 1,000 feet of a drug-free safe zone get their attention,” Arno said during the committee meeting. “And so I think this law has teeth.”

All city-owned parks already are designated drug-free safe zones, according to Arno. Myatt said Bangor Housing could have received the designation earlier, but the option had been “overlooked.”

During the meeting, Councilor James Gallant suggested the housing authority build more playgrounds at strategic points on its properties so more of its buildings and grounds fall into the safe zone category. Earlier this year, the authority expressed interest in building more playgrounds for the children who live in its housing.

“I would say every public housing space should be a drug-free safe zone,” said Councilor Ben Sprague.

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