Windham Police Department is looking to stiffen penalties for those caught dealing or furnishing drugs near local playgrounds, athletic fields, parks and lakes in town.

Currently under state law, all Windham schools are deemed “drug-free zones.” This means anyone caught with a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of these areas may face felony charges.

New legislation, enacted last September, now allows towns and cities to decide whether they want the same rules to apply to areas outside school grounds.

The new zones will be “conspicuously posted” and the cost of these posted signs will be paid with money seized in local drug busts.

Neighboring communities, like South Portland and Westbrook, who have recently expanded their “drug-free zones” to include key parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, are already seeing some success, said Police Chief Rick Lewsen.

If approved in Windham, anyone caught committing a drug crime in or near the posted areas will face felony charges in most cases. For example, the charge of furnishing drugs, commonly a Class D misdemeanor, is raised to a Class C felony. The penalty then increases from less than a year in county jail to up to five years in prison.

“The key meaning in the law is to target areas that attract children,” said Officer Ernie MacVane, local Task Force Drug Agent for the Windham Police.

MacVane calls these “drug-free safe zones” an “incredibly powerful tool” in the fight against drug trafficking and use.

MacVane and Windham DARE Officer Matthew Cyr co-authored a request to designate a long list of areas in Windham where minors frequently congregate as drug-free safe zones.

The list includes school athletic fields and tennis courts, town playgrounds, the Windham Skate Park, Dundee Park, boat launches at Little Sebago and Highland Lake, and Pinelyne Furniture’s Little League field – home to Windham’s “Wiffle Ball League” and site of many neighborhood ballgames.

“We’re taking the drug situation very seriously in Windham, and this will put some of these (offenders) away for longer,” Cyr said. “It really sends the message out.”

Windham Police still need approval from the Windham Town Council to designate these “safe zones.” They also require written permission from private citizens and businesses that own property in the designated zones and state agencies – such as Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife – to post state-owned land.

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