Legislation proposed by Gov. M. Jodi
Rell last week would raise the stakes in several ways for criminals
who manufacture and traffic in methamphetamine, a drug that is an
addictive stimulant and whose social ravages are only now becoming
known to the Northeast.
Mrs. Rell's proposal calls for stiffened
criminal penalties for selling or producing meth, which also goes
by the street names "ice," "crystal" and "glass."
Under her bill, a first offense could be punished by up to 15 years
in prison and a fine of up to $50,000; a second offense could carry
a sentence of up to 30 years and a maximum fine of $100,000. Subsequent
offenses could trigger an automatic 30-year prison term with a maximum
Possessing paraphernalia used in the
manufacture of meth would call for harsh penalties.
Mrs. Rell's proposal would also re-classify
two active ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter cold medicines
- pseudoephedrine and ephedrine - as controlled substances, making
them available only by prescription. Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine
are key ingredients in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Requiring
prescriptions for these medications would make it harder for smaller-scale
meth labs to ply their trade. But lawmakers ought to consider whether
such a requirement would be unduly burdensome to consumers. Instead,
the law could require that such drugs be placed behind the counter,
dispensed only by pharmacists and in limited amounts.
Another key feature of Mrs. Rell's
proposal calls for creating a fund for cleaning up the toxic residue
of meth labs. Meth cooking involves an array of household chemicals
- drain cleaner, antifreeze, matches and batteries. Besides being
highly explosive, the process generates an estimated 5 to 7 pounds
of toxic sludge for every pound of drug. The waste gets dumped in
toilets or sinks or on the ground, creating hazards for the environment
and public health. Under the governor's plan, people convicted of
manufacturing meth would have to reimburse the state for the cost
of that cleanup.
If the experiences in the West and
Midwest are any indication, meth is a drug unequalled in the threat
it poses to society, the environment and public health. From production
to consumption, its effects are uniquely ruinous. Legislation such
as Mrs. Rell's will help the state address this threat in its earliest
stages. But enforcement must be part of a broader strategy that
also emphasizes education and treatment.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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