Senate supports drug trafficking bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has given a strong endorsement to legislation that’s designed to crack down on drug trafficking in the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Under current law, individuals who possess a large amount of drugs, like heroin and crack cocaine, can only be charged with trafficking if police officers catch the individual in the act of selling the drugs. This proposal allows law enforcement officers to charge a person with trafficking if the individual is caught possessing a large amount of drugs.

The legislation allows a penalty of up to 30 years in jail and/or a million dollar fine for people convicted of this crime. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears says the law is needed because Vermont has developed a reputation as safe place to deal drugs.

(Sears) “It’s also to make sure that our laws are such that we can discourage people from coming in here and thinking that they can get away with things in Vermont because we’re lax in terms of how strong we are on drug trafficking. I think that we’ve been targeted to some extent because of the laxness regarding large amounts of drugs and the sale of such large amounts.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also allows a pilot drug court project to expand to six locations throughout the state. Currently there are four pilot courts in operation. This is a project that allows some defendants charged with drug use to avoid jail time if they agree to participate in a sanctioned rehabilitation program.

(Sears) “Because the court is watching closely. If they do mess up too badly you can get them the sanctions that they need in order to move forward. And if there’s just not going to be any hope at all, then you can bring the original charge. But it offers a tremendous opportunity to start to deal with the demand side. The drug trafficking bill deals more with the supply side, but we also have to deal with the demand side.”

(Kinzel) The bill also contains a provision to make driving without a license a civil offense so that individuals convicted of up to four DLS offenses can be sentenced to community service instead of going to jail. The measure will come for final approval in the senate on Wednesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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