AUGUSTA — Bills to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and to crack down on cocaine possession drew conflicting testimony today that stretched into the early evening

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held hearings on a pair of bills that would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 5 ounces of marijuana, and to decriminalize possession of six or fewer marijuana plants. Several supporters said the present law is a waste of taxpayers’ money because it punishes people without any positive gain.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition both supported the marijuana bills. The groups said prosecutions for marijuana possession are disproportional to prosecutions for more serious crimes such as rape, robbery and car theft.

The bills were opposed by the Maine Prosecutors Association, which described Maine’s current law as one of the nation’s most progressive. Prosecutors also say that they are more heavily focused on treatment and rehabilitation than harsh penalties.

Also opposing them was Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. McKinney said one bill would enable youths to grow enough marijuana for significant street sales with only the threat of a misdemeanor.

Earlier in the day, the same committee heard support for a bill seeking harsher penalties for cocaine and crack cocaine possession.

Portland Police Chief James Craig told lawmakers that he’s seeing a similar pattern of gangs and drug violence emerging in Maine’s largest city just as he saw as a police officer in Los Angeles for nearly three decades.

Opposing the bill was the MCLU and LEAP.

“The lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach isn’t working,” said Alysia Melnick, MCLU public policy counsel. “Prison is expensive and does not treat the root causes of drug abuse and addiction.”