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Friday, July 29, 2005

House Passes Strong, Comprehensive Meth Bill

The House approved legislation on Wednesday that seeks to reduce the increase of methamphetamine (meth) production and use in North Carolina. In recent years, meth has become one of the biggest crime problems in North Carolina and is having a dramatic impact on many communities and families. The Methamphetamine Lab Prevention Act, Senate Bill 686, was approved by a vote of 111-0. Supporters of the House bill said that North Carolina would have one of the nation's strictest laws governing the sale of cold medicines used in the making of meth if the measure becomes law.

Medicines that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, would be required to be kept behind a counter and customers would need to show a photo ID to purchase the products. Meth-makers "cook" the stimulant out of cold medicine tablets. The House bill also expands the limitation of access to gel and liquid caps and children's cold syrup.

The House measure also goes further than the Senate bill by requiring video surveillance of sales areas for cold medicines, more restrictions on where the products are kept at stores, civil penalties for retail violators, training requirements for employees who sell the medicine, and regulations for wholesalers that sell cold medicine. The House bill would also increase the penalties for shoplifting or embezzlement of cold medicines and allow individuals with a pattern of meth abuse to be held without bond once arrested. Several states, such as Oklahoma, which included a presumption against bond in their anti-meth legislation, have said that this provision has had a big effect on preventing repeat offenders from getting out on bond while awaiting trial and setting up another meth lab.
The House proposal is a stronger and more comprehensive bill than that proposed by the Senate, and is based on legislation adopted by many states including Oklahoma, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, California, and several others states that have also experienced a rise in meth production and use in recent years. Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), who chaired the judiciary subcommittee that drafted the new House proposal, and other members of the Judiciary IV Committee should be commended for their extensive research on this issue.

The House anti-meth bill will now go back to the Senate for approval. If the Senate does not agree to the House bill, members of both chambers will begin negotiations on the two proposals in an effort to pass a compromise bill.

North Carolina's meth problem has increased over the past few years, and legislators, the Governor and Attorney General Roy Cooper have been working to battle the spread of secret drug labs that produce the dangerous drug. In 1999, the first year that meth labs were reported in North Carolina, SBI agents discovered 9 labs. That number has skyrocketed, with agents shutting down 322 labs in 2004 and more than 135 so far this year. In 2004, 124 children were found living in meth labs in the state. Children in these homes are threatened by toxic chemicals, fire and explosions, and are often neglected or abused. Thus far in 2005, more than 50 children have been removed from homes where meth was being made.

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