Maine: Portland councilors hear criticism of city’s proposed cannabis rules

Speakers question the plan to use a merit-based scoring system to award 20 retail marijuana licenses, saying it favors big businesses and could exclude people who already have invested significant time and money.

2019-11-01

Over the last decade, almost every business move medical marijuana caregiver Dave Stephenson made has been in preparation to join Maine’s adult-use cannabis market – from establishing his grow, Hazy Hill Farm, in Portland to establishing a loyal customer base through a cannabis delivery service.

He has spent the last year and a half hunting for a retail space. Reluctant landlords, exorbitant lease costs, federal mortgage prohibitions and local land-use restrictions proved difficult, but he signed on the dotted line in February to claim his spot after Portland adopted its marijuana zoning rules.

But the undisclosed retail location he has been paying for since February will be worthless if he cannot get the retail marijuana license that he needs to open a marijuana business in the city. With the city calling for a maximum of no more than 20 retail stores, that is looking less likely every day.

“The City Council gave us zoning regulations and as entrepreneurs, we went out and we signed leases and purchased real estate with no warning that we might not be able to open our businesses under these local guidelines,” Stephenson told members of two City Council committees that met on Tuesday.

“Local business owners, myself included, have invested large amounts of money and time into their retail space, and it could all be for nothing if we don’t make the cut,” the longtime Portland resident said. “So I must ask, why limit it to 20 stores? Why limit it at all?”

Stephenson was one of two dozen people who weighed in on the city’s proposed marijuana regulations at a joint meeting of the council’s economic development and health and human services committees on Tuesday. Concerns ranged from the kind of safe businesses must use to whether seating should be allowed.

But the biggest concerns raised by one speaker after the other was the city’s proposed limit on the number of retail stores allowed and the points system it would use to score retail license applications with the highest-scoring applicants being first in line to claim a retail permit.

The city initially proposed a 20-license cap in August, but under the first set of rules, it would have given out the licenses based on a first-come, first-served basis. In October, city staff proposed a change over to weighted scoring, awarding bonus points to encourage diverse, local and successful applicants.

Under the proposed system, the city would award points to women, minorities, veterans and immigrants who have come to Portland over the last decade, those who have lived in Maine for at least five years, and those willing to share 1 percent of their profits with the city, among other conditions.

Speakers complained that the scoring system favors big businesses, awarding a bonus point to those who are able to prove they have at least $150,000 in liquid assets, for example, while giving little consideration to the medical marijuana caregivers who paved the way for the adult-use market.

The proposed scoring system would award a medical marijuana retail store with an established record of compliance in a heavily regulated industry the same consideration as a local barber who had been cutting hair for five years, said Tom Mourmouras, who runs the Fire on Fore medical retail shop in Old Port.

Since opening this summer, Fire on Fore has conducted 28,000 medical cannabis sales, all compliant and tracked, contributed $100,000 in sales tax to Maine state coffers and paid 20 employees a living wage, he said. That ought to be more highly valued by the city than a barber or electrician, he said.

He also accused the city of changing its stance on grandfathering already permitted medical shops. In the fall, when the City Council adopted a moratorium on new shops while crafting its rules, Mourmouras was told Fire on Fore was safe, but now he is being told he will have to compete for one of 20 retail licenses.

“Since then, my business partner and I have invested our life savings into the business,” Mourmouras said. “The city’s current stance on grandfathering would exclude us. Why is my business punished for operating a successful store? I’m up here tonight fighting for my business, my employees and my 50 vendors.”

Andrew Pettingill, a co-owner of Evergreen Cannabis Co., complained about giving a bonus to an applicant who can prove that he has $150,000 in liquid assets, an amount that city staff said a business in this industry will need to have just to get through its first year of operations.

He said anyone in this business could meet that threshold if they were willing to sell part of the equity in their business to outside investors, but it’s not fair to demand that of small operators like Evergreen that already have spent twice that to set up the business, build a brand and fit out a quality grow.

But mostly, the Munjoy Hill businessman said he is impatient for Portland to finally adopt its regulations.

“I’ve been paying $40 a square foot on my retail space since (February) without being able to operate,” Pettingill said. “I’m patiently waiting for the council and the committee to move forward. … I’d just like to express my concerns about the time it is taking.”

Former state Rep. Diane Russell, who helped organize the 2016 state referendum that legalized adult-use cannabis, urged the city to abandon its proposed cap and to consider awarding even more points to those people of color who have been most harmed by the country’s failed drug policies.

“It is not government’s job to make a business successful,” said Russell, who now serves on the board of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It’s the job of the market and the competition. We should let the people and the competition rise up to decide.”

Chris McCabe, a city resident and attorney who practices cannabis law, warned the committees that a city that tips the scale toward one kind of applicant over another is essentially “picking winners and losers,” and opens itself up to costly lawsuits over arbitrary, capricious or wrong-headed regulations.

The city took no action on the proposal Tuesday. The two council committees will meet again to consider particularly controversial aspects of the proposal, especially the retail license cap and the scoring system, but did not set a date for the next meeting.

Maine: Portland councilors to consider student-led ‘climate emergency’ resolution

The resolution would commit the city to pursue ambitious goals on addressing climate change.

People packed City Hall Plaza in Portland on Sept. 20 to call for action on climate change.

People packed City Hall Plaza in Portland on Sept. 20 to call for action on climate change.

The Portland City Council on Monday will consider declaring a “climate emergency” and pledging more aggressive action on climate issues in response to a youth-led rally that drew several thousand people to City Hall in September.

The “Resolution supporting the youth strikes for emergency climate crisis action in Maine” is similar to a resolution passed by the South Portland City Council in October. Both resolutions are modeled after – but not identical to – language that was presented to leaders of the two cities in September by local students who organized one of hundreds of “climate strikes” held around the globe.

In large part, the resolution that will be discussed Monday by Portland councilors reiterates the goals that are expected to be included in the “One Climate Future” action and adaptation plan under development by the governments of Portland and South Portland. Those goals include an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to operate the cities on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

But the resolution goes a step further by pledging to work more aggressively to achieve those greenhouse gas emissions and carbon neutrality goals by 2030. The resolution also states that “the City of Portland hereby declares that a climate emergency threatens our city, our region, our state, our nation, humanity, and the natural world and reaffirms its commitment to local climate action.”

The City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee endorsed the resolution in a 3-0 vote in October.

Anna Siegel, a 13-year-old Yarmouth resident who served as the lead organizer in Maine for the U.S. Youth Climate Strikes, said the declaration of a “climate emergency” and adoption of ambitious goals send a clear, important signal.

“It is something people can rally behind; it is something people can work towards,” said Siegel, an eighth-grade student at the Friends School in Portland.

Siegel said she and other advocates for the resolution are comfortable with the changes proposed by the committee and city staff. But they did press hard for – and succeed in having included – the accelerated goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

“The 2030 timeline was important … because it not only provides a goal, but it is also what the science is asking for and will provide us with a safe future,” Siegel said. “Yes, that is ambitious. But in Maine, we have the capacity to get there.”

The “climate emergency” resolution was a key part of the student-led climate strike that drew more than 2,000 middle school, high school and college students and “adult allies” to Portland City Hall on Sept. 20. Similar youth-led rallies were held around the world that day to coincide with a climate summit held that week at the United Nations in New York.

The events were part of a growing movement of youth climate activists worldwide – epitomized by global climate activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden – who are fed up with government inaction on an environmental crisis that they say threatens their very futures.

As Siegel and others read the resolution that day, they were joined by city leaders from both Portland and South Portland.

“We accept your demands, and we will act on your demands,” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling told the fired-up crowd after accepting a copy of the resolution from two young girls.

Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, said there was clearly a positive reception to the resolution in committee.

Thibodeau said the language of the resolution “falls in line with our goals that we had already started to take up as a city,” pointing to the One Climate Future action plan being developed jointly by Portland and South Portland. Both cities have committed $110,000 to the initiative, which is expected to be finalized next year.

“The youth climate strikers put forward an extremely aggressive timeline, and to meet this challenge, we have to be aggressive,” Thibodeau said of the 2030 goal.

The document also acknowledges that Portland cannot go it alone by demanding that “the federal government, and all governments and peoples around the world initiate an immediate social and economic mobilization to reverse global warming and ecological destruction.”

But there are things that city government can and should do to reduce its climate footprint, Thibodeau said.

“That’s where the rubber hits the road,” he said. “There are the things the city can do to put us on a path to that goal. But what the resolution acknowledges is it is going to take a partnership at the state and federal level.”

In a reversal from her predecessor, Gov. Janet Mills has made addressing climate change a top priority and created a nearly 40-member Maine Climate Council to propose actions. Those goals include reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050, and increasing the amount of electricity from renewable sources from the current 4o percent to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

Mills, a Democrat, has also said Maine will work toward the international goals established by the 2015 Paris climate accord despite the fact that President Trump recently moved to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

Siegel said she was pleased to see the change in direction at the state level and agrees that both Portland and South Portland have been active on climate issues. But that is not always the case, she said, as local governments and state leaders expect each other to take leadership on climate issues.

“Eventually someone needs to make the first move,” she said.

The climate emergency resolution will be one of the issues discussed during the City Council meeting that begins 4:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Maine: Crystal meth resurfaces as increasingly deadly threat

A highly pure form of the drug has been flowing into the region, raising fears about overdoses and violence.

Two types of methamphetamine have found their way into Maine: on the left, a high purity crystalline form and, on the right, a pill form, photographed Friday at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Portland.

Two types of methamphetamine have found their way into Maine: on the left, a high purity crystalline form and, on the right, a pill form, photographed Friday at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Portland.

Highly pure crystal methamphetamine is flowing into Maine and New England at an unprecedented rate, alarming police and substance abuse recovery advocates who say the drug has contributed to added violence at Portland’s homeless shelter and an increasing number of overdose deaths statewide.

Front-line workers at the Oxford Street Shelter have in recent months seen an uptick of violent interactions with people who they suspect are using crystal meth, leading to injuries of staff and guests at the 154-bed facility. Next week, staff will receive more training to help handle the unpredictable behavior that follows methamphetamine use.

“At the shelter, we’ve seen a drastic shift over the last year,” said Aaron Guyer, Portland’s social services administrator. “What we’ve seen really is an increase of erratic and violent behavior.”

Criminal trespass notices, which can temporarily bar someone from the shelter for up to a year for breaking shelter rules, have increased 50 percent from 2018, and about half of the notices were for assault on a guest or a staffer, according to statistics released by the city.

Statewide, overdose deaths attributed to methamphetamine are also on the rise. Last year, 26 people died of methamphetamine-related overdoses, or 10 more than in 2017. In the first quarter of 2019, the latest period for which data are available, methamphetamine killed eight people and accounted for 11 percent of all drug-related deaths in that period, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

The violent outbursts that meth produces are a product of how the drug affects the body, doctors say. While heroin and fentanyl depress central nervous system and respiratory activity, methamphetamine is a powerful synthetic stimulant that rapidly produces feelings of euphoria followed by hours of energetic, obsessive behavior that can lead to hallucinations and psychosis. Users sometimes stay awake for days or weeks at a time; with extreme, long-term use of methamphetamine, drug-induced psychosis can be permanent.

“Everything is on edge and ready to go,” said Dr. Jonathan Fellers, an addiction medicine psychiatrist and medical director at Crossroads addiction treatment center who treats people with methamphetamine use disorder. “It can also lead to paranoid thinking and hallucinations, so people can misperceive what is going on around them, and maybe even act on that. People become very suspicious.”

For a 38-year-old Portland resident, Matt, methamphetamine use produced a delusion that he was doing fine and was in control of his life, when the reality was far different.

“I hadn’t worked in three months, I was about to be evicted and I lost 50 pounds,” said Matt, who asked that only his first name be used for fear he would face discrimination for his past drug use. “I could not come to grips with the truth that once I started (using) I lost my power of choice.”

Matt said his drug addiction began with pharmaceuticals that were prescribed to him by a doctor, and his first exposure to stimulants was in college, when a fraternity brother gave him Adderall, which is prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He used it to stay awake for five days during their pledge week.

Matt said he has been trying to stay clean since a family intervention in 2010 and is currently 17 months drug-free. He came to Portland in the summer of 2018 for recovery after he overdosed on a drug cocktail that included methamphetamine, heroin and other drugs. He said he’s been able to stay sober with the help of a 12-step program and now works professionally to help other people in recovery.

There are many others like him in the state. When Matt arrived in Portland in 2018, there was no meeting in Maine for people recovering from methamphetamine addiction.

“I contacted Crystal Meth Anonymous, and they said the closest was in New Hampshire,” Matt recalled.

Now, at the Portland Recovery Community Center on Forest Avenue, the crystal meth/amphetamine meetings are the fastest-growing 12-step recovery group offered by PRCC, which often hosts meetings with 50 people, said executive director Leslie Clark.

“It’s challenging because it’s just a terrible drug,” Clark said. “The impact on people physically and on their brain, the kind of psychosis and violence is more unique.”

Besides an increase in violence at the shelter, methamphetamine use has been linked to a recent high-profile assault. In July, a 37-year-old Bridgton man was reportedly high on methamphetamine and had been awake for at least two days when he beat and stabbed a couple in their 70s inside their lakefront home, nearly killing them. Police at the time did not identify a motivation for the attack, and it was unclear whether the alleged perpetrator knew the victims.

That same month, police in Portland said a man who was high on methamphetamine was hallucinating when he jumped into Portland Harbor to “cool off” before officers wrangled him out of the water unharmed. And in June, officers seized 112 grams of the drug during a traffic stop in the Bayside neighborhood and charged a Westbrook man with felony drug possession; the same man was arrested again in July, also in Bayside, with 56 grams of meth and a loaded Glock handgun.

And last month, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officers charged a Brunswick man with transporting 108 grams of crystal methamphetamine to Maine from Boston on an Amtrak train.

Users of the drug pay $80 to $100 per gram, according to the MDEA. That’s typically enough for someone to get high a couple of times, but everyone’s response to drugs is different. The cost is on par with other stimulants, such as crack and powder cocaine.

The crystals, which also are sold in pill form, can be crushed into powder and then snorted, smoked or injected. Users can become addicted quickly, seeking more of the drug to avoid the crash that comes when it wears off.

Police say the drug is flowing into the United States from Mexico, where drug cartels produce vast quantities using industrial-scale equipment, making a crystalline product that is more potent than that produced by the “one pot” method of making methamphetamine at home.

After the drugs are smuggled from Mexico across the Southwest border, Dominican street gangs in Boston, Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as Bridgeport, Connecticut, distribute them to midlevel dealers throughout New England, according to an annual report produced by the MDEA.

“It’s the same network, transportation and all, that brings us heroin, fentanyl and cocaine,” said MDEA director Roy McKinney. “Out West, they’ve been battling it for a long time. In New England, we’re seeing more of that over the last few years.”

As importation of the higher-quality drug from Mexico has increased, police have seen a decline in homemade meth production, in which over-the-counter cold medicine, pseudoephedrine and household chemicals are combined in a violent reaction. That method can produce about an ounce of methamphetamine at one time, McKinney said, and the quality is often lower than the Mexican cartel version.

MDEA agents responded to 126 meth labs or meth lab dump sites in 2016, the highest number recorded in a single year. In 2017, agents found 58 labs, and in 2018, the number declined to 51 labs, according to the drug agency. So far this year, MDEA agents have responded to 33 labs and are tracking toward another annual decline.

In the same period, seizures of the purer form of meth have increased. In 2017, MDEA agents initiated 103 meth-related investigations and seized 5.6 ounces of the drug, an amount smaller than a can of soda. Last year, agents initiated about the same number of investigations – 105 – but seized 9.9 pounds of methamphetamine, including a single seizure of more than 4.5 pounds.

Through the end of September of this year, MDEA agents had initiated 60 meth-related investigations and recovered 3.3 pounds of the drug, according to the agency.

Maine: Portland considers ban on face-scanning technology

Civil rights advocates fear the proliferating facial recognition technology will be used to conduct mass surveillance of innocent civilians without probable cause.

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Pious Ali poses for a photo in the Portland International Jetport on Thursday before catching a flight to Washington, D.C. Ali and fellow Portland Councilor Brian Batson are proposing that Portland ban the use of facial scanning technology by city employees, including the police department. If successful, Portland would be the first community in the state, and one of a few in the country, to ban the technology.

Pious Ali poses for a photo in the Portland International Jetport on Thursday before catching a flight to Washington, D.C. Ali and fellow Portland Councilor Brian Batson are proposing that Portland ban the use of facial scanning technology by city employees, including the police department. If successful, Portland would be the first community in the state, and one of a few in the country, to ban the technology.

Apple uses it to help users unlock the latest iPhones. Facebook uses it to identify friends and family members in the photos you post. And several airlines are using it instead of boarding passes to screen passengers.

It’s everywhere. But the proliferation of facial recognition technology is raising concerns among civil rights advocates and others who fear the technology will be used to conduct mass surveillance of innocent civilians. Critics also point out the technology is less reliable in identifying people of color or women than white men, which can lead to false-positive identifications of racial and ethnic minorities in criminal investigations.

Now Portland City Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson want the city to formally ban the use of facial recognition technology and similar identification tools by city employees, including the city’s police department. If successful, Portland would be the first community in the state – and one of a small but growing number of cities around the country – to enact a ban on the technology.

Portland councilors are scheduled to take up the issue Monday. The discussion comes as Maine’s largest city has embraced so-called smart-city technology, which includes traffic monitoring and has stoked fears about government’s increasing ability to watch over citizens. And Portland’s police officers are now equipped with cameras mounted on their chests to capture video of each person an officer interacts with, another source of concern about privacy.

Portland’s smart city efforts so far include LED streetlights that can double as WiFi routers and sophisticated traffic management systems that can read and adjust signals in response to real-time traffic. Portland officials have expressed interest in other “public safety functions,” but so far, officials say that has not included facial recognition technology.

Ali would like to keep it that way.

“It’s a proactive way to say, ‘I don’t want this,’ ” Ali said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark did not respond to interview requests for this story. Clark last week delayed plans for Portland’s school resource officers to activate body cameras after school officials raised concerns about student privacy.

City Manager Jon Jennings said he was looking forward to the discussion but wants to keep the city’s options open when it comes to technology that could be beneficial in the future.

“City staff is eager to follow the discussion on facial recognition software at the council meeting on Monday,” Jennings said in an email. “While the city currently does not use facial recognition, there may be instances in the future where partners at the Jetport or on the waterfront may want to implement. The city currently does not plan to utilize this technology, but there may be needs in the future. Ultimately this will be up to the City Council to decide and we will follow their direction.”

A 2016 study by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology said that 117 million Americans, or one out of every two people, already have their image in a law enforcement face recognition database, mostly from driver’s license or passport photos. At least 26 states allow law enforcement to run facial recognition searches. The report says police in Maine can search 24.9 million mugshots. And of the 52 police agencies nationwide believed to be using the technology, only four had a public policy about how the technology is used, researchers say.

Facial recognition has been around for decades, but technological advances in recent years, especially in 3-dimensional imaging, have made it more ubiquitous. While 2-dimensional images require ideal lighting and the subject to be facing the camera, new technology can allow identification of someone turned 90 degrees from the camera.

It works by essentially mapping a person’s dominant facial features, such as eye shape and spacing, as well as jaw and nose lines. The software measures the distances between dozens of reference points, creating a unique profile similar to a fingerprint. The profile is then compared to the faces in existing databases, such as those that contain driver’s license, state ID, passport photos or police mugshots. More advanced programs can also conduct an analysis of skin texture to increase accuracy and, in some cases, account for different facial expressions, facial hair or eyeglasses.

China is currently experimenting with gait recognition technology, which can allow authorities to identify a person whose face is obscured by analyzing how he or she moves when walking. The proposed ordinance in Portland would not prohibit the use of gait recognition technology, but a resolution attached to it says facial recognition and “other biometric surveillance technology” pose a threat to civil liberties.

Facial recognition technology is used all over the world, with applications ranging from airport and border security to a soccer team in Denmark that uses it to identify unruly fans.

Perhaps the most extensive deployment is in China, where authorities are using it to monitor the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority ethnic population. The New York Times reported in April that the technology is being used to track the group’s movements and alert police if a large group appears in a certain location.

In the U.S., the technology has been used to screen passengers at airports, including Miami International Airport. The Boston Herald reported in April that JetBlue was using facial recognition rather than boarding passes.

Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, said that JetBlue and Delta are using the technology at other airports, but not here.

“The (Portland) Jetport does not use this technology, but some of our airline partners have commenced facial recognition projects at other airports,” Bradbury said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a report to Congress that it is working toward full deployment of the technology within the next four years “to account for over 90 percent of departing commercial air travelers from the United States.” That system is already being used to identify noncitizens who have overstayed their visas. It compares face scans at the airport to a database assembled from existing federal images, including from passports, visa applications or previous border encounters with the U.S Customs and Border Protection.

By the end of fiscal 2018, DHS said the technology was operational at 15 locations nationwide. Since its inception, over 2 million passengers on more than 15,000 flights have been scanned by the technology, which DHS says has a 98 percent match rate. And 7,000 people who have overstayed their visas have been biometrically confirmed. The U.S. Border Patrol also tested facial recognition technology at a Texas border crossing to identify people in vehicles moving under 20 mph.

In November, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking information about how facial recognition was being used in public surveillance. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. It came after the agencies did not provide those documents in response to a public records request.

In the absence of federal laws governing facial recognition, some states and local municipalities are taking action to regulate the trend.

San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to ban use of the technology in May. Since then, Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts, have followed suit. And Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considering enacting a ban on use by its city government.

The state of California this fall passed a three-year ban on using facial recognition technology in police body cameras in the state. And Massachusetts, which the ACLU says has used facial recognition since at least 2006, is considering a moratorium on facial recognition and “other remote biometric surveillance systems.”

Police in Detroit, who are led by former Portland Police Chief James Craig, spent $1 million on facial recognition software and had been using the technology for a year and half before drafting a policy on its use. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has filed a public records request to learn more about how it is being used.

This fall, the board that oversees the Detroit police voted to restrict its use, prohibiting public surveillance and immigration checks that use the technology. The Detroit Free Press reported that facial recognition can only be used in response to violent crimes, including robbery, sexual assault, aggravated assault and homicide. One board member, Willie Burton, described the technology as “techno-racism.”

As momentum builds to restrict government uses of the technology, business groups and police associations are beginning to raise their voices to protect the ability to deploy it in the name of public safety.

In October, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with eight other technology, airport and security groups, sent a letter to Congress, urging it not to ban or pass any moratorium on the use of facial recognition. The group noted that the technology can enhance security and is becoming increasingly accurate.

“We are concerned that a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology would be premature and have unintended consequences not only for innovation, safety, and security but for the continued improvement of the technology’s accuracy and effectiveness,” the group said. “Instead, we urge Congress to collaborate with all stakeholders to address concerns raised by facial recognition technology and provide a consistent set of rules across the United States.”

A similar open letter to Congress was published in September by tech companies.

The letters came after a congressional hearing in May, during which concerns about the technology’s infringement on civil liberties were raised.

Among those to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was Joy Buolamwini, a graduate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who founded a group named the Algorithmic Justice League in Cambridge after being misidentified by the technology.

“I established AJL to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology after experiencing facial analysis software failing to detect my dark-skinned face until I put on a white mask,” she said in her written testimony. Buolamwini said her research showed that women of color in some cases were misidentified one-third of the time.

“Real-world failures and problematic deployments including mass state surveillance, false arrests, and the denial of working opportunities remind us of what is at stake in the absence of oversight and regulation,” she said. “Congress must act now to protect the public interest.”

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ technology for liberty program, worked with Councilor Ali on Portland’s proposed ban.

“Face surveillance is dangerous when it works, and when it doesn’t,” Crockford said. “The government has no business using technology that can facilitate the mass tracking of our every movement in public space – every visit to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, a doctor’s office, city hall, or even just a friend’s house. But that’s exactly what this technology enables, in its most dangerous form.”

The Cumberland County Sheriff”s Office used facial recognition technology for a couple of years beginning in 2012 to compare investigative images to existing mugshots. But Sheriff Kevin Joyce said the technology only worked if they had a clear picture and the person was facing the camera. They were unable to use the technology to identify any robbery suspects because of either a poor picture quality or the camera angle.

Joyce said he hasn’t stayed up-to-date on the technology. But he cautioned against an outright ban, saying that it could be another tool, along with other investigatory work, to help police solve crimes.

“There are going to be crimes in the future that come up that we’d maybe solve a crime by having that facial recognition,” Joyce said. “If it’s used for criminal justice and solving crimes and used ethically, I don’t see there’s an issue with it. But it needs to be used ethically and correctly.”

In July, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that the state would not grant open-ended access to the state’s Real ID driver’s license database for investigations or facial recognition scans. However, the state will conduct specific searches on behalf of federal agencies if such a search is deemed appropriate.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said Maine law only allows the state to use biometric technology to issue licenses or state IDs – it does not allow them to conduct facial recognition searches for outside groups, such as local, state or federal law enforcement. Staff is currently working on legislation that would allow it to conduct those searches under certain circumstances, but she didn’t know whether it would be ready for the upcoming session.

Muszynski said the rules would likely mirror an existing policy for conducting searches of its old license and ID database, where police agencies submit a written request with a subject’s name and or address in order to get a photo to confirm an identity. The investigations unit of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles has processed 592 image requests this year, she said.

According to state records, the state has issued 17,815 driver’s licenses and 727 state identification cards since July 1 when it began using Real ID, which can be used for facial recognition searches.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said she would like to see the state enact a moratorium on facial recognition so policies can be drafted, similar to the way the state handled police use of drones several years ago.

“No government agency should be deploying this technology without clear guidelines around protecting people’s constitutional freedoms and preventing abuse,” said Bellows, a former ACLU of Maine director. “One of my biggest concerns is that this technology can be used for massive, warrantless surveillance of public activities on a scale that we haven’t seen before.”

In Portland, some city councilors are looking to get ahead of the curve.

The ban proposed by Ali and Batson states that it is intended to “protect the privacy and civil liberties of residents.” In addition to frequently misidentifying women, young people and people of color, the councilors say the technology “may chill the exercise of free speech in public places” and “corrupt the core purpose of officer-worn body cameras by transforming those devices from transparency and accountability tools into roving surveillance systems.”

The council could vote on the ban Monday night. But some councilors have already expressed an interest in either referring the ban to a committee for additional work or to a council workshop for further discussion before voting.

City Councilor Kimberly Cook said she supports the proposal and that it would require city officials to seek permission from the council to use the technology, rather than allowing staff to implement it on their own. Cook also said the council should be playing a larger policy-setting role in the city’s entire smart-city initiative.

“To the extent that city staff are pursuing these initiatives, they should bring them to the council for consideration and guidance about whether this is a priority for the city,” Cook said. “So far, I have not been seeing that happen with smart-city technology,” including automated vehicles.

City Councilor Jill Duson said she plans to ask councilors to refer the ban to a committee because she would rather see an ordinance that’s tailored to Portland than simply adopting a standard ordinance used in other communities. Duson said she’d like the city to have a thorough discussion about facial recognition technology before setting a policy, much like it did with police body cameras.

“I would have real concerns about a precipitous ban,” she said. “But I also have concerns about precipitous implementation. For me, it has to be done in the context of our city.”

Vermont man gets probation, fine for buying Maine pot

Charles Caliri, 71, of Woodstock, told the judge he had “no excuses” for his actions.

2019-11-01

PORTLAND — A federal judge sentenced a Vermont man Wednesday to three years of probation and fined him $10,000 for buying a kilo of marijuana in Lewiston to distribute to friends in Vermont.

Charles Caliri, 71, of Woodstock, Vermont, told U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal he was “ashamed” and “humiliated” and that he had “no excuses” for his actions.

“I broke the law and I’m guilty of that,” he said.

Caliri had been charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He pleaded guilty in July.

He said he suffers from anxiety and hasn’t slept well over the past year since he was charged with the Class D felony.

Rather than buying his pot in Vermont legally, he said he’d hoped to save some money by coming to Maine.

“I will never, ever do it again,” he told the judge. “It’s been a rude awakening.”

Judge Singal told the time-share salesman that just because he was aware that others had done something similar, didn’t make it right.

“Everybody does it” and “It’s a stupid rule” are childish sayings, Singal said. “We have to set an example for younger people,” he said, noting the defendant was around his age.

Singal said Caliri had been “dumb” by making a deal “with a bunch of criminals” and that by giving them money, he was assisting them to “do worse things.”

His attorney, Peter Rodway, told the judge that marijuana has become widely accepted in society and increasingly legalized throughout the country.

“I guess that’s what bootleggers were saying when they were prosecuted under federal law” during Prohibition, Singal said, adding most states have not decriminalized the drug.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce wrote in court papers that a car with Vermont plates was spotted leaving the Sabattus Street home of Richard “Stitch” Daniels in February 2018. A Maine State Police trooper stopped the car in New Gloucester. Police found a “distributable amount” of marijuana and $18,000 in the car.

Daniels, who was charged after a Feb. 27, 2018, raid in the Twin Cities area by drug agents and police that ensnared more than a dozen suspects, including businesses, is expected to plead guilty to drug charges next week in federal court.

Joyce wrote that a drug trafficking organization cultivated marijuana at numerous locations in Androscoggin County under the guise of Maine’s medical marijuana program, including sales to out-of-state customers. The organization also grew marijuana for making butane hash oil illegally. Daniels was a member of the group that was distributing marijuana illegally, Joyce wrote.

Maine: Lisa Savage, Green Party candidate to oppose Susan Collins.

download (1).jpgSo most of you know Lisa Savage. We also know that other candidates running for US Senate have TV ads already and tons of money to use. We just have each other and our networks of Maine family and friends and our social media to share this info with. To that end I ask that you share the info I am sharing with you today with family, friends, and your social media. [feel free to write an article for the papers, using her lisaformaine.org web site] I am also including here the video of her campaign rally she did in Congress Square Park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?

We also need as many of you as can to register Green by January first to sign her petition to get her on the ballot. [you can always switch back to what you were registered as after you sign.] And as always if you can volunteer with the campaign on her web site. We are looking for phone bankers right now. I will be sending an e-mail out about a phone banking party here in Portland on Nov.22nd. Lisa is the candidate of the People and it is going to take us all to get her on the ballot.
This is how the state of Maine should be represented, by someone who can take this state from a major weapons making state to a state that makes Green jobs for infrastructure and clean renewable energy and leads the other states out of this weapons making madness that keeps us in these wars for profit killing people around the world and billions of dollars from the American people to do so leaving folks homeless and without medical coverage. Please go to lisaformaine.org and sign on to her campaign.. It is time Maine to lead for the People,Planet and Peace.
Love,
jacqui

Portland councilors must decide how many homeless people new out-of-sight shelter can hold

The City Council has to set the capacity so the shelter can be designed, but advocates for the homeless fear the city could abandon its 30-year commitment to taking in anyone in need of shelter.

Portland city councilors are facing a decision on the capacity of a new homeless shelter planned for the Riverton neighborhood, a key but sensitive step that is raising questions about the city’s decades-old pledge to shelter anyone in need.

A City Council committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a recommended capacity, which the full city council will ultimately determine and city staff will use as they design and prepare to operate the new shelter.

A draft resolution, discussed by the Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee on Oct. 29, calls for “adequate capacity to handle occasional overflow.” It does not mention any limits on the number of people coming from outside Portland to seek a bed – a controversial restriction that has been discussed previously and could be raised again as the discussion moves to the full council.

In practical terms, the council needs to set a capacity so a new shelter can be designed. However, any attempt to do so could be seen as walking back the city’s 30-year commitment to shelter anyone in need. That commitment has led communities surrounding Portland and beyond to rely on the city’s shelter as safety net.

City officials have talked for many months about building a 150-bed shelter, but that number has not been formally endorsed by the council. At a previous meeting, one councilor suggested setting the capacity higher than the 150 beds, given that the city’s existing adult shelter and overflow spaces have routinely exceeded 200 people a night in recent years.

Another councilor suggested punting the sensitive capacity discussion to the full council.

“We’re going to have to build a shelter with a finite amount of beds,” City Councilor and committee member Brian Batson said at a recent meeting. “Of course, there will be overflow.”

Committee members Batson and Councilor Pious Ali did not respond requests for interviews on Monday. Councilor Belinda Ray, who chairs the committee, said she was not available.

City officials are working on plans to build a new shelter to replace its existing shelter on Oxford Street in Bayside, which they say is outdated and unsafe for both staff and guests.

The existing shelter is a former three-story apartment and attached auto garage, where people sleep on floor mats. It routinely exceeds its 154-person capacity, forcing the city to find overflow space. An additional 75 floor mats are set up at Preble Street and additional space in the city’s general assistance office are also used when needed.

The council voted in June to build a new homeless shelter on Riverside Street, a move that continues to be opposed by area residents and homeless advocates who fear that the new location is too far from services and jobs on the peninsula. Men and women staying at the current shelter also have expressed concerns about the new location and its distance from downtown, even predicting that people will find places to sleep outside rather than travel back and forth to Riverside.

City staff have said they plan to offer a shuttle service to supplement an existing bus route to help clients make it to their appointments.

Unlike the current facility, the new shelter is expected to include a host of onsite services, including a soup kitchen, medical clinic, community police station and areas for counseling. It also will have actual beds, rather than floor mats.

The committee took up a potential capacity limit at its last meeting, but was unable to reach an agreement.

Ali wanted more information about what the city will do when people arrive at the shelter after the cap has been reached before he decides how to vote. He suggested that the committee let the council as a whole set the capacity.

Up until now, city staff has been using informal advice given by the council last year to create a shelter with up to 150 beds, plus space for an additional 25 beds for overflow. But advocates have pointed out that demand for beds already routinely exceeds that amount.

There has been a reduction in the number of adults seeking shelter over the last two years. The average number of people seeking space at the Oxford Street Shelter so far in 2019 has been 208, compared to 216 in 2017. But the demand varies widely, from a high of 271 on two nights in January and February to a low of only 135 beds one night in August.

The slight drop in average nightly use has come as shelter staff have issued more criminal trespass orders to prevent individuals who break rules from returning. The orders, which can prevent someone from using the shelter for up to a year, increased by 50 percent last year, from 84 in 2018 to 126 through early October. However, trespass orders dropped by nearly 28 percent at other community shelters, from 86 to 62.

A breakdown of trespass orders provided to council showed that 43 were issued after an assault on a guest, 19 after an assault on a staff member, 16 issued after a threat to staff and 10 because of hate speech.

City Manager Jon Jennings said Oct. 22 that move is part of its efforts to protect staff from increasingly violent behavior fueled by an increase in methamphetamine use. “It certainly is a much more threatening behavior,” Jennings said.

Batson, a nurse at Maine Medical Center, said he’s seen a rise in aggressive behavior because of meth as well, calling it “a very real thing.”

Officials at the nonprofit social service provider Preble Street did not respond to requests for an interview on Monday about the capacity debate. Donna Yellen, the nonprofit’s deputy director, said at an Oct. 8 committee meeting that there were still periods over the last year when more than 250 people were in the city’s emergency shelter.

Yellen said that one of the reasons Maine regularly has lower rates of unsheltered homeless people when compared to other states is largely because Portland’s commitment to help anyone in need.

“Please, give considerable community process before changing this policy that will absolutely change the face of our city and it will become one that none of us will be proud of,” she said.

Ray, the chair of the council committee, said at the Oct. 29 meeting that setting a capacity at the new shelter would also help the city solicit financial support from the state and from other communities in the region that rely on Portland’s shelter to help residents. She did not think that city staff would ever allow people in need to go without shelter.

“We are everybody’s overflow,” Ray said. “Setting a cap helps to give us leverage to get other people involved in a way we haven’t been able to in the past.”