PORTLAND, Maine — Portland Police Chief James Craig says state laws need to be updated to reflect cocaine’s growing role in crime in Maine’s largest city.
Craig tells the Portland Press Herald that Maine is unusual in treating possession of small amounts of powder and crack cocaine as a misdemeanor. He says crack cocaine is fueling violence and will destroy that community if authorities don’t stay ahead of it.
Craig will have to win over skeptical lawmakers.
The Senate chairman of Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee says the state needs to address prison overcrowding before enhancing crimes and prison sentences. Stan Gerzofsky also says prescription drug abuse appears to be a bigger problem.
Federal sentencing requirements have been relaxed somewhat on crack cocaine compared with powder cocaine.
For more than two decades, crack cocaine was treated much more seriously than powder cocaine, with mandatory minimum sentences of five years for 5 grams or more. The disparity was reduced, though not eliminated, in a bipartisan vote in Congress this summer.
Craig said his call for making possession of a small amount of crack cocaine a felony is not targeting the minority community for unfair treatment.
Portland is not like other major cities in the country. Here, most of the people who use crack cocaine are white, not minorities, he said.
Craig said he wants to make the penalties more severe to prevent the city from following major U.S. cities where crack cocaine has hurt the quality of life.
Craig said two home invasions, three robberies and a stabbing in one week were all connected to drugs.