AUGUSTA, Maine — Last week, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a $3.7 million drug bill that funds 10 new drug enforcement agents and a new detox center. But two Republican lawmakers say more should be done to stop drug traffickers, and they’ve presented two bills that would increase drug offense penalties and create a new state police interdiction unit.
While LePage has come under fire for recent comments about drug dealers from out of state coming to Maine, he has garnered support in Augusta for his call to step up enforcement efforts.
“I don’t care if you’re Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian or black,” LePage said. “If you deal drugs in this state — I’m after you.”
Republican Sen. David Burns of Whiting has put forth a bill that would create a Maine State Police Drug Interdiction Unit in the Department of Public Safety. It also would provide three state police officers and a supervisor to conduct drug trafficking patrols on state roads and ways and at access points.
“The primary purpose of this state police interdiction unit will be to detect and interrupt the flow of illegal drugs within the state,” Burns said.
Burns told members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that the new officers would coordinate their activities with the Maine Drug Enforcement Administration after receiving specialized training on drug interdiction techniques and tactics that might be otherwise overlooked during a routine traffic stop.
Burns said the training also would include education on proper search and seizure techniques that he believes would result in larger drug seizures.
The bill was welcomed by Rep. William Tuell, a Republican from East Machias, who said the state can’t do enough to discourage illegal drug trafficking.
“Quite frankly, if there’s a way to do even more for enforcement — I don’t think anyone would turn that down either,” Tuell said.
Another proposal before the committee was offered by GOP state Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, who told lawmakers that Maine needs to impose harsher penalties on those who illegally import drugs into Maine. To achieve that goal, Cyrway said his bill increases the seriousness of the offense and imposes mandatory minimum sentences for a new crime that would be called “aggravated illegal importation of scheduled drugs.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is truly a war, and I’m certain that this legislation before you now will also help in our quest to rid the state of illegal drugs,” Cyrway said.
But some committee members aren’t so sure. Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a Brunswick Democrat, said that Maine already imposes harsh sentences for drug dealing.
“I haven’t had any DAs coming to me saying, ‘You know senator, we can’t put these people away, the sentences are too light,’” Gerzofsky said.
Both bills will undergo further review.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.