Pubdate: Fri, 20 May 2005
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2005 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


AUGUSTA - Hoping to recoup state drug enforcement funds eliminated by 
federal cutbacks, the Baldacci administration is coming down hard on pot 
smokers in a clear message that the price of getting high is getting higher.

Those committing the civil violation of possession of marijuana not only 
will face mandatory fines, but fines that will be double what they have 
been. Penalties for possession of drug paraphernalia also will increase.

The Legislature's Appropriations Committee was briefed Thursday on the 
governor's Part 2 budget by Rebecca Wyke and Ryan Lowe, from the state 
Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Both said changes in the drug violation penalties should pump $2.3 million 
into the state's drug enforcement efforts over the two-year budget cycle 
that begins July 1.

"Funding that was available for drug enforcement agents was rather severely 
cut back," Wyke said. "In order to make up for that, we looked at a 
proposal to increase drug-related fines."

The prospect of having to cope with the loss of more federal funds was 
troublesome to many of the panelists. Rep. Jeremy Fischer, D-Presque Isle, 
asked the administration for a list of services that would be lost as a 
result of federal cutbacks.

"It's kind of distressing because we just went through the whole thing in 
the Part 1 budget and these are further reductions in federal funds," 
Fischer said.

The administration has proposed increasing the current fine of $200 to $300 
for using drug paraphernalia or possessing drug paraphernalia with the 
intent to use it.

Those convicted of civil possession of marijuana would see minimum fines 
jump from $200 to $400 and maximum fines increase from $400 to $600.

A person committing the same offense a second time within a six-year period 
would face a fine of $600, up from $400.

No part of the fine could be waived or suspended by a judge under the 
governor's new policy, eliminating the option of negotiating the fine for 
defense lawyers seeking a potential plea bargain.

Lowe said any attempt to modify the mandatory aspect of the fines would 
undermine the intent of the legislation.

"Without these fines we would be looking at abolishing the Maine Drug 
Enforcement Agency in fiscal year 2007," he said. "It's somewhat of a 
balancing act. We're not raising money to put into the general fund for an 
unrelated expense, these are directly related to funding the drug 
enforcement agency."

Assistant House Republican leader Josh Tardy practices law in Newport when 
he's not working in Augusta. He expected the mandatory drug fines may 
encounter opposition from defense lawyers, but added that no one disputes 
the need for the money to fund drug enforcement efforts in the state.

"Criminal defense practitioners probably have an ongoing objection to any 
kind of mandatory minimum sentences of any kind because it puts people in a 
box as they go into the process," Tardy said. "Still, in a perfect world, 
if the additional fines produce an additional deterrent effect it may 
eliminate the need for prospective additional enforcement and there is a 
drug epidemic in Maine."
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman