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Maine Bill To Address Illicit Marijuana Operations Is ‘Racist’ And ‘Unconstitutional,’ Advocates Say



“LD 2204 is unwise, unconstitutional, and unnecessary to enforce existing laws.”

By AnnMarie Hilton, Maine Morning Star

A bill heard by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday hopes to address large-scale, illegal cannabis operations that have been found in homes across Maine, but legal experts say there are already laws to do this and critics see the bill as a problematic violation of rights.

Sponsored by Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris), LD2204 seeks to create new crimes for racketeering and expand asset seizure to pay for the cost of restoring the houses where these operations take place. The bill also prohibits people from purchasing property in Maine if they are not permanent residents and are citizens of China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea or Russia.

“These racketeering influenced criminal organization laws exist to investigate and charge for conspiracy to hopefully clean up this mess,” Andrews said.

The bill has nine co-sponsors, all Republicans.

The Office of the Attorney General is collaborating with law enforcement agencies across Maine on investigations into large scale cannabis operations often found at rural properties.

“We hope to curtail this illegal activity,” said John Risler, an assistant attorney general, in his testimony against the bill.

But that can be done with existing laws, he said; they just need to be enforced effectively. Sometimes multiple search warrants are authorized in a single week, Risler said, especially as the issue has garnered more attention in recent months.

Andrews said the bill is designed to give law enforcement a tool to shut down multiple operations that may be conspiring together. However, Risler said the provisions suggested in LD2204 “are confusing and inconsistent with current Maine state law.”

The ACLU of Maine also testified against the bill, calling it “blatantly racist,” and added in a news release that discriminating based on national origin, race or ethnicity violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“LD 2204 is unwise, unconstitutional, and unnecessary to enforce existing laws,” said Michael Kebede, policy counsel for the organization. “It also unfairly targets immigrants and punishes people because of where they were born, not what they have done.”

Alicia Collins, a selectman for the town of Sidney who spoke in favor of the bill, said the town has already placed a lien on a property running one of these operations. She said residents are asking her why more is not being done, and all she can tell them is that a warrant is in the works. She argued Andrews’ bill would allow more to be done.

This story was first published by Maine Morning Star.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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