By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
January 31, 2013
RALEIGH — With the number of meth lab busts rising more than 30 percent in North Carolina last year, lawmakers wasted no time filing a bill that would stiffen the penalties for manufacturing the dangerous drug in the presence of children, the elderly or disabled. House Bill 29 would also create a criminal offense for the purchase or possession of a psuedoephedrine product by someone with a prior record of meth possession or manufacture.
“What we’re looking to have is a series of bills that will deal with those people who violate current law, those that have a history of dealing with meth. We want to increase the punishment for these crimes and more directly deal with habitual offenders,” explained Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union). “Plus we’ve seen labs in day care centers and in homes of the elderly, so we’re trying to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
Filed on Wednesday, the opening day of the 2013 Legislative Session, the bill was sponsored by Horn and Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford), co-chairs of the House Select Committee on Methamphetamine Abuse, and by Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), vice chairman of Judiciary Subcommittee C, where the bill will first be heard.
As it reads, H-29 would make it a Class H felony for anyone with a prior meth conviction to purchase or possess any medication containing pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient for making the highly addictive methamphetamine, also known as “speed,” “chalk,” “crystal,” or “crank.” According to N.C. Structured Sentencing, Class H felonies carry sentences of four to 25 months. The bill would also add 24 months to the prison sentence for those caught manufacturing meth in the presence of a person who is under 18 years old, or is physically or mentally incapacitated, or is over 60 and unable to provide for his or her basic physical or mental needs.
Horn said he was glad to get the bill filed early in what he expects to be an extremely busy session.
“I’m afraid that non-economic bills may get lost as we move further into the session and get so focused on the budget, plus the sooner the better so that we can vet this properly, get sufficient input and ensure that we are doing the right thing,” he added. “The Legislature has clearly indicated their interest in doing something … and having the Select Committee on Meth Abuse was a major step forward. Now we’re putting forth some action that we think is reasonable and realistic.”
The bill, which would take effect Dec. 1, has some 16 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle and is part of the General Assembly’s ongoing effort to reduce methamphetamine production across the state, where at least 444 labs were raided last year.
A law passed in 2011 required stores to begin electronically tracking their sales of pseudoephedrine, but Horn said the change simply led to a massive increase in the cottage industry of smurfing — purchasing the maximum allowed amount of pseudoephedrine-containing drugs and selling them at a profit to lab operators. He had told fellow lawmakers that an estimated 70 percent of pseudoephedrine purchased in the state is used for meth production.
Prior to 1976, pseudoephedrine was sold only by prescription, and a proposal to once again declare it a Schedule III substance failed to gain enough support in 2011, which led to the electronic tracking compromise. Since 2006, state law has limited pseudoephedrine purchases to two packages at once and only three within a 30-day period.
Horn said his committee is continuing to research how best to keep meth’s main ingredient out of the hands of abusers and that fellow lawmakers should expect more bills as the session continues.
The Christian Action League had supported efforts to make pseudoephedrine a “prescription-only” drug, and the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the League, said House Bill 29 is a step in the right direction.
“This Committee hasn’t stopped working on this problem between sessions and we’re glad to begin to see some of the fruits of their labor,” said Dr. Creech. “No one wants to keep law-abiding folks who need medicine from getting it, but we must do whatever it takes to keep pseudoephedrine out of the hands of those who will use it to harm themselves and others, especially children and the elderly or disabled.”
To read a copy of House Bill 29, click here