Tuesday, February 18, 2014
- by Rep. Eric Watson
My colleagues in the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Haslam are right to be focused this year on the scourge of methamphetamine production and abuse.
I know firsthand just how serious these problems are, not only in Bradley County, but other parts of the state. More than anything, making progress against meth cooks and dealers will require that everyone involved—lawmakers, police officers, consumers and doctors—work together to put forward constructive solutions to the problem.
While a few folks are convinced that we have to pass anti-meth legislation that impacts law-abiding citizens and criminals alike, I am convinced that we can strengthen our current laws with more effective measures that target criminals, not honest citizens. The crux of the issue is whether we should pass harsh restrictions on the amount of cold and allergy medicines people can buy in order to curb domestic meth production. As we all know, however, Tennessee has awful allergy seasons. In my view, we shouldn’t make life more difficult for allergy sufferers and senior citizens by forcing them to take time off work or drive to the doctor’s office to get the care they need. It’s no surprise that AARP Tennessee recently came out against a proposal that would severely cut the amount of cold and allergy medicine people can buy without a prescription and those that would impose a prescription mandate.
I’ve introduced legislation, House Bill 2001 that I think would be a much more effective solution to the meth problem. My bill would take the fight to the meth criminals without burdening good and decent Tennessee taxpayers. To achieve those fundamental goals, my legislation would reduce the amount of pseudoephedrine-based products individuals can buy to 7.2 grams per month and 61.2 grams per year. That’s almost half the current legal limit and I think it’s a reasonable restriction that would make sure most consumers can get the medicines they need while preventing criminals from being able to buy significant quantities of potential meth precursors.
The bill I have introduced would also enhance our state’s electronic pseudoephedrine blocking system and meth offender block list. Currently, anyone convicted of a meth-related crime is automatically blocked when they try to buy pseudoephedrine-based products for seven years. I think we should expand that list to anyone convicted of a drug felony. We should also penalize localities that don’t send information on drug offenders to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (the agency the manages our block system) as they are required to by law. This will ensure that all of the criminals who should be on the block list are accounted for in a timely and effective fashion.
Another way we can take the fight to meth criminals is to increase the penalties for their offenses. I am a proud prime sponsor of House Bill 1661. This legislation would significantly increase the mandatory minimum sentences for meth-related offenses. Anyone convicted of meth possession would have a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days of jail; anyone convicted of manufacturing meth would have a minimum of 180 days in jail.
Taken together, these measures will provide myself and other law enforcement officials with a new advantage in the battle against meth production and abuse. They do not represent a silver bullet, but I’m confident they will lead to significant progress. According to law enforcement officials in Oklahoma, meth lab incidents have declined 50 percent in that state in the two years since lawmakers passed a meth offender block list there. There’s no reason why Tennessee can’t replicate that success if we make some improvements to our block list and our anti-meth laws overall.
We all agree that more must be down to tackle the meth problem, but I refuse to believe we have to make life more difficult for law-abiding taxpayers in the process.
Rep. Eric Watson