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Drugs in our County - a five-part series

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The drug trade hits home


   PATRICK CROWLEY, Reformer Staff

Tuesday, August 7

BRATTLEBORO - In a small, cramped conference room at the Brattleboro Police Department, a pile of assorted drugs and bags of money sat in heat-sealed plastic bags on a long narrow table.

Two pounds of marijuana seized from a house on Upper Dummerston Road filled the room with a potent smell. Smaller bags containing individually wrapped portions of cocaine, some in powder form, some as crack-rock, were associated with various arrests around town this year. Even smaller bags held tiny paper packages, or bindles, of heroin, small enough that it barely represented the powerful high the drug could deliver to its user.

On the table, as detectives roamed around and identified various substances before them, was the seized collection from just a handful of recent arrests in Brattleboro.

While the collection may not be substantial when compared to larger cities, it is a reminder that Brattleboro, and Windham County in general, has its own place in the drug trade.

The police department is seeing an increase in drug activity in town, particularly with cocaine, according to Detective Mark Carignan.

A series of investigations led to a flurry of cocaine-related arrests this year. In one of the police department's recent arrests, two brothers were busted for selling cocaine. The two were the target of an investigation that stretched on for months and included the use of confidential informants, body wires and surveillance and search warrants, police said.

Hector A. Vargas, 20, of Brattleboro, and his brother Xavier Vargas, 20, of Walpole, N.H., are facing four counts of sale of cocaine among them. Hector Vargas was ordered held on $25,000 bail and ordered to appear at Windham District Court. Xavier Vargas was ordered held on $5,000 bail.

Within the last month or so, two New Jersey men were arrested for cocaine charges as well. On July 7, Aaron Taliaferro, 26, of Jersey City, N.J., was arrested after a raid at a South Main Street residence. Taliaferro had more than an ounce of cocaine that was packaged in small, individual bags.

Then, a few weeks ago, Jorge L. Delaoz, 38, of Elizabeth, N.J., was arrested on South Main Street with about an ounce of cocaine as well. Police did not say whether Delaoz's and Taliaferro's cocaine sale operations were related, but Carignan did say in many drug investigations, separate cases sometimes meld together.

"They're very fluid, dynamic investigations," he said. That fact, he said, is in the nature of drug investigations in general.

At the end of a department-issued press release about the Vargas arrests, police added that "additional arrests are expected in this case."

While Carignan couldn't get into specifics, he said "that almost all these investigations are almost constantly ongoing."

Although it appears that cocaine arrests are on the rise, Carignan said that doesn't necessarily mean drug dealing in the area has increased by a great amount.

"A lot of it has to do with timing," he said. Many investigations that police were pursuing happened to finish at the same time. Another factor, he said, is that the way drug dealing happens in the area is changing.

"Yes, I would say that it is on the rise," Carignan said of local cocaine use. But with more opportunities for drug dealers in southern Vermont, the way drugs get here has changed.

Up until the late 1990s, the way the drug market worked in Brattleboro was that typically a group of friends would pool money together and venture into one of the larger cities to our south -- places with available drugs like Springfield and Holyoke, Mass., and Hartford, Conn.

But now, many dealers are bringing their operations directly into town and selling their drugs instead of waiting for the users to come to them.

"The reason for that is strictly profit-based," Carignan said. Dealers usually are making a 300 to 400 percent profit margin.

"The point is that rather than people coming down, there are legitimate urban dealers who are coming up here and selling it themselves," Carignan said.

A sign of that drug trafficking route came after a Brattleboro man was convicted of federal charges stemming from an extensive investigation of drug trafficking between Brattleboro and Springfield, Mass.

Torren Boyd, 26, was sentenced to five years in prison in June for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. Boyd was caught selling drugs to a confidential informant who was working for the Vermont Drug Task Force.

The drugs also come from larger cities into the northern parts of the county. A Bellows Falls woman was sentenced in federal court earlier this year for her role in distributing crack cocaine out of a local apartment.

The drugs were brought into Bellows Falls by two New York men.

The signs that cocaine is on the rise come from elsewhere as well. The number of people in the state who have been admitted to a treatment facility with cocaine as a primary substance was at about 200 in 2005, according to Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs at the Vermont Department of Health. In 2006, that number jumped to about 500.

"There has been some growth there," she said, adding that people in the state are concerned cocaine use could become a serious threat.

Carignan said it is crucial that people are aware of the threat.

"The more the public is aware of what's happening, the more they can help to prevent it," he said.

It would be nearly impossible to get everyone to stop using hard drugs, Carignan said, but what can be done is create an environment where it is uncomfortable for drug dealers to set up shop in the community.

"It's sort of police's responsibility to work on the supply end, but it's society's responsibility to work on the demand end."


The perfect route

   PATRICK J. CROWLEY, Reformer Staff

Wednesday, August 8

Trooper Earl Dessert sits in the driver's seat of a dark green Vermont State Police cruiser, the occasional squeal from the radar drowning out the intermittent highway noise.

This particular vehicle, like only a few others in Troop D, the Brattleboro barracks, has a high-tech, in-car computer. Various pieces of information, like the location of other troopers, are available with the push of a button.

Despite all the distractions, Dessert remains focused on vehicles heading north or south on either side of the cruiser as he sits in an emergency turnaround on Interstate 91. There is still a bit of light left in the sky, enough for Dessert to be able to glance inside the cars at the drivers.

Without warning, the lights of his cruiser flash on. He puts the car into drive and swings into the northbound lane of I-91 in Putney.


The stop was one of many Dessert would initiate along I-91 that night, most of which, Dessert said, involved normal, innocent and decent people just heading from Point A to Point B on one of New England's most important highways.

Interstate 91 snakes through Vermont for 177 of the highway's 290 total miles.

With a starting point in New Haven, Conn., the road runs near the Connecticut River through Connecticut and Massachusetts before crossing the Vermont border in Guilford.

For the most part, the highway, completed in 1978, runs through typical, billboard-free, Vermont scenery until hitting the Canadian border at Derby Line.

From both ends of the Vermont portion of the highway, it is no secret that drugs are trafficked in and out of the state. Law enforcement agencies struggle to keep up with the influx of drugs, most of which are just passing through.

Not all of the drugs remain in the cars, however. Some of those cars take an exit to unload some of their stash.

Sgt. Eric Albright, patrol commander for the state police Brattleboro barracks, estimated recently that 95 percent of its drug arrests occur on the 20-something miles of the interstate in its patrol area. Those busts haven't been minor infractions either: 100 pounds of marijuana, better than a pound of cocaine, $250,000 in cash, $750,000 in cash stuffed in a gas tank, 800 bags of heroin, large amounts of Ecstasy and a variety of other drugs have all been seized by Vermont State Police right on I-91 in Windham County.

But how drug busts are made in New York City and how they're made in Vermont are two different styles of law enforcement.

"What people don't understand is that we're a rural state," said Albright. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say that 99 percent of the crimes perpetrated in this state start with a traffic violation."

When a criminal is pulled over on the side of the highway, that's when they are most vulnerable, Albright said. For that reason, police officers need to be extremely attentive, looking for one of many signs that could lead to the next drug bust.

"It's basically being a keen observer and paying attention to the little things that can indicate any kind of criminal activity, not just drugs," Albright said.


As Dessert sped toward the minivan on I-91 northbound, he explained that there was a thin space at the top of the windows of the vehicle where the window tinting did not reach. That is how he knew the tint was illegal.

With the minivan pulled over in the breakdown lane, Dessert explained to the Washington state-based driver that his tint is illegal in Vermont.

"Do you have any illegal guns, drugs or large amounts of cash in the vehicle?" he asked.

The driver hesitated for a moment before answering.


Dessert called him on the hesitation.

"Are you sure?"

"To be honest, officer, I have a little bit of bud," the driver said, admitting that he had a small amount of marijuana in the car.

Soon the driver was taken out of the vehicle and told to wait while another trooper showed up to assist at the scene while Dessert searched the car (with the driver's consent).

No more drugs were found in the van, and Dessert made the decision to destroy the drugs and paraphernalia and give the driver a warning for the window obstruction.

Dessert explained there were several factors that influenced him making that decision: First, the driver had no criminal record. Second, the marijuana found was a very small amount and was clearly for personal use. It also didn't hurt that the driver was forthcoming about what he had on him.


In 2003, Vermonter Kelly Bruce, 19, of Orleans, was in a car that was pulled over for speeding on I-91 northbound in Hampshire County, Mass., according to a report by James Lowe, a reporter with the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass.

The car was searched, turning up 13 grams of cocaine and 184 bags of heroin. Bruce eventually told investigators that he often made the 400-mile trip from Orleans to Holyoke, Mass., to pick up heroin, stating that near his home, a bag would run somewhere around $40. In Holyoke, he could pick one up anywhere from $6 to $10.

"Holyoke and Springfield are big source cities for all the drugs that end up in the Brattleboro area," said Sgt. Andrew Bzdel of the Massachusetts State Police in Northampton.

For that reason, the patrol of I-91 by state police in Massachusetts is important to the flow of drugs into Vermont. Gone are the days when the biggest threat was bags of marijuana. The hard stuff -- large amounts of heroin and cocaine -- mostly originates in cities like Springfield or Holyoke.

Bzdel said recently that police in his area have been noticing a disturbing trend that complicates officers' ability to find drugs. Traffickers have resorted to storing drugs inside their body to conceal them. He said in some cases, the best way to find those drugs is to get the person arrested for something else, such as finding drugs elsewhere in the car, and get the person to produce the drugs from his or her body at the station.

But when it comes down to trying to eliminate the number of drug traffickers trying to make their way north, there is work to be done, Bzdel said.

"I wish I could tell you that putting more police on the road would solve the problem," he said. "It's just one piece of the puzzle."

Other pieces include more enforcement in the source cities, education of both users and innocent civilians in those source cities, treatment and stiffer sentences.

"There's not one answer," he said, adding "Unfortunately that costs a lot of money."


Dessert, later in his patrol, again parked the cruiser at an emergency turnaround. The car was positioned in a way where he could pick up radar from both sides of the highway. By now, it was dark -- the northbound lane was a stream of bright headlights, the southbound lane filled with red dots.

"All the drugs that come into this state, mostly are by motor vehicle," Dessert said. "State police are out there doing a lot of motor vehicle work, looking to stop or slow the drug trafficking."

Again, without warning, Dessert shifted his car into drive, this time heading south toward the Massachusetts border. As the cruiser's engine whined and a handful of cars passed, Dessert explained that he spotted a car with its license plate light out.

The driver, a New Hampshire man on his way to see his girlfriend in New York City, received a written warning after he and Dessert shared a brief conversation about motorcycles.

Back in the cruiser, Dessert explained how his biggest drug bust on the highway began just as this previous traffic stop did -- the tiny light above the license plate was out. It turned out the car was carrying 10 pounds of marijuana.

The meth issue: No one is immune


   PATRICK J. CROWLEY, Reformer Staff

Thursday, August 9 Editor's note: This is the third in a four-part series of articles exploring the drug trade coming in or traveling through Windham County. This article explores the growing problem of methamphetamine. Though not yet a problem in Vermont, the drug is becoming a big problem for rural America. Bradford County, Pa., in the northeastern reaches of the state, bills itself as "in the heart of the endless mountains" and home of "breath-taking vistas and winding country roads."

It's the place where Zachary Gates grew up. Gates, an attorney for Brattleboro law firm Downs, Rachlin & Martin, said the area is a lot like Windham County. Small, rural communities dotted with dairy farms ... a great place to raise a family.

Around 2000, an Iowan by the name of Les Molyneaux moved to Towanda, Pa., in the heart of Bradford County, and started cooking methamphetamine. By the time Molyneaux was arrested, he had shown his associates how to make his own brand of meth. Slowly, the recipe spread and, within a few years, the rural landscape "had been brought to its knees" by the devastating drug, said Gates.

Somehow, things got even worse.

In 2004, two sheriff's deputies arrived at a residence in Wells Township, a town on the New York border, with a warrant for failure to appear in court. The two deputies, both family men, were shot and killed. A 36-hour manhunt followed before an arrest was made.

"It was absolutely gut-wrenching for the county," Gates said. "It was shocking." The man at fault for the shooting, a convicted felon named Dustin Briggs, was found guilty on two counts of murder and sentenced to death.

According to a report by The Daily and Sunday Review, out of Towanda, the two deputies, Michael VanKuren and Chris Burgert, were serving a warrant on the house where a suspected meth lab was reported to be.

The crime was unlike anything the area had seen. Gates stated the crime ruined the lives of many people, all over a dangerous homemade drug.

"Everybody lost," he said. Addiction to meth spread throughout the region "like wildfire," assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Casey was quoted saying in Newsweek in August 2005. Casey told the magazine that the drug took hold of entire families and turned them into "zombies." The area even found itself a new nickname from law enforcement officials, who call Bradford County "meth valley."

Gates, at the time the meth epidemic arrived in his hometown, was at Pennsylvania State University studying law. His law review at Penn State took on his interest in environmental law and focused on the issue that had hit home -- clandestine methamphetamine laboratories.

In the review, Gates writes that meth labs, and therefore meth use, usually set up shop in small towns. There, the environmental dangers of the drug and the process to make it exposed everyone in the house, including children.

"As methamphetamine laboratories move out of the archetypal abandoned warehouse setting and into private residences to avoid detection, children increasingly are exposed to hazardous chemicals which they might ingest or inhale," Gates writes.

Abuse of methamphetamine is widespread in the country, particularly in the West and Midwest. According to data from the National Clandestine Laboratory Database, just one such lab was seized in Vermont in 2004. By comparison, California had 525, Washington state had 395, and Missouri topped the list with 1,018 labs seized.

The numbers, for the most part, remain high in many parts of the country. But the Northeast is an exception. In Massachusetts, three labs, in Maine, three as well. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, no labs were reported.

An estimated 10.4 million people over the age of 12 have tried methamphetamine at some time in their lives, according to a research report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"I don't think we've seen any state that's immune," said Garrison Courtney, a DEA spokesman.

The ingredients in meth vary, but often includes inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients found in cold medicine.

Federal and state laws restrict access to large amounts of the cold medicines such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Under the law, cold medicines that contain the ingredients sought by meth producers are kept behind the counter. Across the country, anyone who needs to purchase more than a 30-day supply must have a doctor's note for permission. People must also present identification when buying the medicine.

After a similar regulation went into effect in Iowa, police seized 20 labs a month, down from 120 before the law was in place, according to information from Join Together, an anti-drug organization of the Boston University School of Public Health.

Vermont passed a law that is essentially the same as the federal law, but adds state penalties and remains in effect should the federal law ever be withdrawn.

But even if Vermont has only seen a couple clandestine labs busted in the past few years, authorities say the state is poised to have a surge in meth use.

Given that factor, and the state's proximity to Canada, where the drug and its ingredients could be smuggled from, Vermont is poised for a meth problem and the authorities know it. A member of Vermont State Police recently shared a story that in New Hampshire's North Country, a man was stopped coming in from Canada with several hundred pounds of ephedra, which could be used to make massive quantities of meth.

Adding to the area's vulnerability, nearby New Hampshire is well aware that meth has arrived in the state. Over an 18-month period starting in 2004, 18 meth labs were seized in all of New England. Twelve of those were located in New Hampshire, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Yet, Vermont remains relatively untouched.

Still, every now and then there are reminders in the state, and even Windham County, that the drug has arrived.

In February 2004, a middle-aged man was discovered dead in his Brattleboro home. Police originally thought his death, which had no witnesses, was as a result of alcohol. His body was sent to the Vermont medical examiner's office for an autopsy and police got some surprising news, according to John Martin, chief of the Brattleboro Police Department.

His death, it turns out, was the result of a lethal combination of alcohol and methamphetamine. Other than a random discovery of a bag of meth on the street, the Brattleboro Police Department has not dealt with the drug since.

In June 2004, two Arkansas men were arrested for running the state's first known methamphetamine lab in Shrewsbury. Monty Ray Barrows, 40, and Glen Fitzgerald, 33, both of Omaha, were arrested after police received a tip from a woman living in the home that the men were cooking meth.

The men had been making the drug in Missouri, one of the hardest-hit states in the meth epidemic, but came to Vermont because there was a lot of "heat" on them that they thought they could escape here.

In May 2005, the Hartford Police Department found what appeared to be a meth lab in the Hartford Town Forest. Over the next several months, an investigation by the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force revealed a New Hampshire man was manufacturing and selling the drug, according to a U.S. Justice Department press release.

Matthew Dunbar, of Canaan, N.H., sold meth to undercover officer on two occasions and was arrested after the second sale. He was charged federally and prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Thomas Anderson. He was sentenced to 60 months in prison for manufacturing and attempting to manufacture methamphetamine, according to the press release.

Even though Vermont meth use is low, the state isn't taking any chances. Through comprehensive prevention programs, the state works hard to prevent widespread drug abuse in general.

Searching for the cure

   PATRICK J. CROWLEY, Reformer Staff

Friday, August 10

Over the last 50 years, Vermont, like the rest of the country, has tried various approaches to preventing drug abuse. In the 1960s, it tried to scare kids into staying away from "reefer madness" and other drugs. That didn't really work.

In the 1970s, the kids were given far too much information on the drugs through school programs that also tried to boost their self-esteem.

In the 1980s, the phrase was "Just Say No," but the kids were never really told how to say "no."

But in the 1990s and this decade, the approach has shifted to research-based programs that take a closer look at a child's risk factors.

"We've had to learn from our mistakes," said Robin Rieske, one of the state's drug abuse prevention specialists who works in Brattleboro.

Rieske is one of 10 prevention specialists who are scattered across the state to help build local facilities for drug and alcohol treatment and assure "that every community has this issue on their radar," according to Rieske.

"It definitely pays off," she said. "And our data shows that our efforts are paying off."

In the 2005 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (which surveyed grades 8 though 12), state numbers show declining or static use. Twenty-two percent of students used marijuana, down from 32 percent in 1997. Three percent of students used heroin, the same numbers were given in 2003 and 2001.

In numbers just for Windham County students, 43 percent tried marijuana in 2005, down slightly from 45 percent in 2003. The percentage of students who have tried cocaine remained at 9 percent in both 2003 and 2005. Three percent tried heroin in 2005, down from 4 percent in 2003 and 7 percent tried methamphetamine in 2005, down from 9 percent in 2003.

The survey also showed that 22 percent of students were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property.

But for parents, any number is too high, so the prevention efforts come from all sides.

"We've always approached the issue as proactively as possible in the state," said Rieske.

Much of that is Gov. James Douglas' DETER Initiative, which stands for Drug Education, Treatment, Enforcement and Rehabilitation. The program funds nearly $3 million worth of new programs and coordinates them into a single statewide effort.

"Vermont is doing more than it ever has before to address substance abuse and because of the governor's focus on this issue, our resources are targeted at the most effective solutions. In most cases those solutions are found at the community level," said Jason Gibbs, the governor's press secretary.

Gibbs explained that DETER was put into effect when Douglas came into office in 2003. Over five years, Gibbs said, the state has invested nearly $22 million in drug education, treatment and rehabilitation.

The program also brought a money, such as the "Directions" and "Drug Free Community" grants.

Grants like those often end up going to community drug prevention organizations, like the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition.

The prevention coalition, since 1990, said it has helped in "increasing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol prevention programs" through either direct service or support of other organizations.

And while methamphetamine abuse hasn't become a serious threat in the state, the drug prevention programs aren't leaving America's most dangerous drug out of the picture.

To start with, Douglas signed the Vermont Act 164 Relating to Precursor Drugs of Methamphetamine law in May last year, which essentially has the same conditions as the federal law which requires that certain cold medicines are sold behind the counter. Customers also are only allowed to purchase a 30-day supply and have to present identification and put their name in a log book upon purchase.

Essentially, the Vermont law was created to add state penalties that would be in effect if the federal law is withdrawn.

In Vermont, possession with the intent to make methamphetamine of less than 9 grams could land an offender in prison for up to 1 year with a $2,000 fine. More than 9 grams could mean up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The prevention efforts go beyond just the legislation, a state official said.

"From a health perspective, we have been aggressive," said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs at the Vermont Department of Health.

The treatment providers, she said, are kept up-to-date with the latest training in terms of meth abuse.

"We try to make sure we're getting out information as the issues change," Cimaglio said.

Two years ago, a regional meeting of state law enforcement, health and prevention communities started an effort to expand community education -- that means more students will be getting a lesson about the many dangers of methamphetamine on top of the usual talks about drunk driving and peer pressure.

"It's become part of our prevention vocabulary," said Rieske.

First responders -- police, EMTs and firefighters -- are another group that is getting its fair share of meth knowledge, so they know what to look for if a house is suspected of meth operation.

But if they see changes in the drug scene in Vermont, they will change their strategy, said Cimaglio. The key is being ready.

"You really, realistically, have to be prepared for something like this," said Garrison Courtney, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman. He said states like Vermont are in the best position when they are prepared. If meth producers have the time and freedom to develop roots in the community and a network for distribution, it will take years to take the full network out.

Midwestern states like Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska learned that the hard way, as they were caught completely offguard by the arrival of meth in the 1990s.

"Whatever is being done prevention wise, it seems to be working," said Jenny Burtis, executive director of Turning Point Recovery Center of Windham County, a new drug treatment facility in Brattleboro. She said in the time her recovery center has been open, no person has been admitted listing a primary drug problem with methamphetamine.

But she said the No. 1 problem in terms of alcohol and substance abuse in Vermont is what low-income families face on a daily basis.

"The hopelessness of poverty goes hand in hand with the disease of addiction," she said.

Another big issue, she said, is that while the state does have some good treatment options, there simply aren't enough. When a person decides to finally go to treatment, that is a big moment for them. But if they can't get into a treatment facility within a decent time frame, it becomes a big problem, leaving them weak and vulnerable to fall back into addiction.

Still, the state likes to think its program is working, and will continue to work.

"The best thing about our approach is that we're as comprehensive as possible," said Rieske.

Officials take a case-by-case approach


PATRICK J. CROWLEY, Reformer Staff

Friday, August 10

Possession of marijuana -- up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. Possession of more than two and a half grams of cocaine -- up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Trafficking more than 7 grams of heroin -- up to 30 years in prison and $1 million fine.

The state of Vermont's penalties for drug possession or sale range greatly. A first-time offender caught with a small amount of marijuana will likely walk away with a citation to appear in court, where he or she will be made to pay a fine. But a person with three or more felony convictions who gets caught with a felony amount of any drug may end up in prison for the rest of his or her life.

Still, law enforcement officials in Windham County say either the state's drug penalties need work or the way they are implemented needs to change.

"I do think the penalties are adequate," said John Martin, chief of police in Brattleboro. "But we do not have the jail space to use the penalties as written."

Martin also said he is not opposed to giving some convicted criminals a break here and there -- sometimes first-time offenders just need the arrest and a light sentence to teach them a lesson -- but said there are some people who need to serve time in jail.

"Rarely does anyone get the penalties that are in place," he said.

Sgt. Eric Albright, patrol commander at the Vermont State Police's Brattleboro barracks, agreed that the laws on the books are just fine.

"There are some pretty stiff penalties," he said. "What it boils down to -- obviously there's not enough room in the jails and prisons to incarcerate everybody (who is convicted)."

Therefore, jail time is avoided for many facing a drug charge.

State's Attorney Dan Davis explained that handing out the maximum sentence depends on the case.

"It depends on a whole host of different factors," he said.

Since there are no mandatory sentencing guidelines in Vermont, Davis said, in considering sentence, the factors that need to be looked at include the offense that is committed, the person's criminal record and the impact the crime had on the community.

"All those things are factored into a sentence," Davis said.

The severity of Vermont's drug penalties depend on the amount of a particular drug a person is caught with. For example, with cocaine, possession of less than 21/2 grams, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Possessing more than 21/2 grams may mean up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine. More than one ounce could earn someone up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine.

But if you sell cocaine, the penalties get stiffer -- all the way up to a trafficking charge with 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine if you are caught with 300 grams or more.

The trafficking penalties, Albright said, were added within the past few years and carry long prison sentences to those caught with large amounts of any particular drug.

For marijuana, 50 pounds qualifies as trafficking. For methamphetamine, it is 300 grams. For heroin, 7 grams or more is needed for a trafficking charge. If one bag of heroin is roughly 30 milligrams, as Albright said, then about 233 bags are needed to qualify as trafficking.

"Which is an awful lot," Albright said. To him, the trafficking amounts written in Vermont law are far too high. Just one pound of marijuana, he said, clearly is not for personal use and should qualify as trafficking.

"I think that threshold amounts for certain charges are a little wacky," Albright said.

Detective Mark Carignan, who handles narcotics investigations for the Brattleboro Police Department, says that the sentences handed to drug users are generally right on.

But when it comes to drug dealers, he has a different feeling.

"It's just not enough."

He gave an example of a first-offender drug dealer in the Vermont criminal system. He or she gets convicted and sentenced to about 10 or 12 months in prison, then, after probation, they're back on the street, most likely dealing again.

"It needs to be a deterrent," he said of the sentence.

It's not all bad, though.

In a situation where a person is caught bringing drugs into Vermont with intent to sell, Albright said, that person is more apt to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Those are the types of people, he said, that are coming from out of state, making a lot of money and "destroying the fabric of the community."

Albright shared a story of one of his drug busts: A man with a history of drug arrests stopped in Windham County. He was caught with roughly 300 bags of heroin and crack-cocaine and ended up being sentenced to a minimum of three years in prison.

"I was pretty happy with that."