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Compromise Averts Felony Charges for First-time Maine Drug Offenders

First-time offenders caught with small amounts of drugs like cocaine and heroin will no longer face felony charges in Maine. (Credit: Drug Enforcement Administration)
First-time offenders caught with small amounts of drugs like cocaine and heroin will no longer face felony charges in Maine. (Credit: Drug Enforcement Administration)
June 6, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine - Starting next month, Mainers who would have faced felony charges for possession of small amounts of drugs will instead receive a misdemeanor.

A legislative compromise put a lid on the felony charges.

When the legislative session began, Attorney General Janet Mills was pushing to make possession of 30 milligrams of drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine a felony, but Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) worked out a compromise with Mills.

"I think it was a very good compromise," says Dion. "The idea that you're considering whether you will be subject to a misdemeanor or a felony, while at the same time sticking a needle into you're arm, was way too simplistic an assumption."

Under the compromise, felony charges for small amounts of certain drugs will only kick-in for Mainers who have already been convicted of a similar drug offense.

Just last week, three police departments in southern York County launched Community Access to Recovery programs, which allow addicts to come in for help without fear of facing charges. Dion says this is a positive trend.

"The soldiers on the front line of the drug war are telling you in very tangible ways," he says. "That enforcement alone isn't working."

Dion says the measure, LD 1554 became law without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage.

"I don't think he likes it. He's on the wrong side of this question," says Dion. "I think this is a time where we can now marry enforcement and treatment, and try to have a balanced approach to a very complex social question."

More than 130 police departments nationwide have adopted recovery approaches to dealing with addicts.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the Scarborough Police Department was the first in Maine to adopt the new approach.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME