Drug dealers with stereotypically black names are importing heroin to Maine and leaving pregnant white women behind when they leave the state again, Gov. Paul LePage (R) told a town hall meeting on Wednesday.
In a response to a woman named Cathy’s question about what he’s doing to combat drug abuse in Maine, LePage touted a bill he’s proposed to institute stiffer criminal penalties on out-of-state drug traffickers.
“Now the traffickers, these aren’t people that take drugs. These are guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” LePage said, drawing chuckles from the crowd in Bridgton, ME. “These type of guys that come from CT and NY, they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home.”
“Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” LePage added. “Which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we’ve gotta deal with down the road. We’re gonna make ’em very severe penalties.”
LePage’s communications director Peter Steele told the Portland Press Herald that LePage “is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant. What is relevant is the cost to state taxpayers for welfare and the emotional costs for these kids who are born as a result of involvement with drug traffickers.”
LePage also told Cathy he’s hiring 10 new drug agents, wants to spend more on educating young people about the dangers of drugs, and believes it’s time to focus more resources on treating drug addicts rather than simply throwing them in jail without making an effort to coach them off of substances.
LePage’s interest in a gentler war on drug addicts isn’t unique among conservative politicians. At least, not in 2016. As prescription drug abuse has become more common, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and other prominent Republicans have started to publicly acknowledge that a purely punitive approach to drug users is ineffective and unjust. More quietly, leading GOP lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have made sure that federal funds can finally be used on needle exchange programs and other non-punitive modes of responding to drug abuse.
The party’s apparent reversal on policy issues around hard drug use has been abrupt. It also “follows patterns we’ve seen over decades of drug scares,” Sentencing Project executive director Marc Mauer told The Marshall Project over the summer. Mauer says the shift is attributable to the fact that oxycontin and other prescription opiates that are highly addictive are primarily used by white people, while the rawer form of heroin is perceived to be a predominantly black drug.
“When the perception of the user population is primarly people of color, then the response is to demonize and punish. When it’s white, then we search for answers,” Mauer said.