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Lawmakers address meth problem

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The legislative pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as several important bills to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine in Tennessee advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The action came after compelling testimony was heard from the state’s top law enforcement authorities about the scope of the problem and its impact on users, their families, crime, and the environment, as well as healthcare costs and the loss of productivity.

Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year. Two hundred sixty-six children were removed by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from homes due to meth-related incidents in 2013 at an estimated cost of more than $7 million. The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns.

“Lab seizures and meth use have affected many aspects of Tennesseans’ lives,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who is sponsoring legislation proposed by Governor Haslam to attack Tennessee’s meth problem. “This bill is aimed at fighting the production of meth, while not overburdening law-abiding Tennesseans who need temporary cold and sinus relief.”

Senate Bill 1751 the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 4.8 grams, which is equivalent to 40 12-hour tablets. Norris said this targets the so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The legislation sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 14.4 grams. Currently, the most frequently purchased box size contains 2.4g of pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, and in 2012, the average Tennessee consumer bought 4.8g for the entire year.

As amended, the proposal allows an allergy sufferer to purchase an unlimited amount of liquid or gel caps, but the consumer would have to get a prescription to exceed the limit in pill form. Liquid and gel caps cannot be utilized in the manufacture of methamphetamines. Under the bill, consumers under the age of 18 may not purchase pseudoephedrine products, without a prescription unless they buy liquid or gel caps.

Other bills which were approved by the Judiciary Committee include:

• Senate Bill 1791, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), which calls for pharmacist authorization reduced to writing for consumers purchasing pseudoephedrine products without a prescription. The bill is designed to utilize a pharmacist’s professional skills in order to weed out those who want to purchase this drug for use in the manufacture of meth.

Senate Bill 1647, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), which requires either a prescription by a physician or an oral prescription by a pharmacist reduced to writing not to exceed six months in length. The legislation does not cap the amount but makes it a controlled Schedule VII substance, meaning purchases will be reported to the Controlled Substance Database for tracking by law enforcement authorities. Meth resistant pseudoephedrine products would not be affected by the bill.

Senate Bill 2540, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), which allows local governing bodies by a two-thirds vote to ban the sale of methamphetamine precursors in their jurisdiction without a prescription. 

Several Tennessee counties have voted to ban the sale of the products without a prescription; however, the state Attorney General ruled last year that the legislature must act to give them this authority.

Senate Bill 2021, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), which provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days in jail for manufacturing of meth.

Senate Bill 1312 sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), which requires that anyone with a drug felony, not just a methamphetamine felony, be placed on the methamphetamine registry, preventing them from purchasing pseudoephedrine products for 10 years.

The bills now go to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee where they will be further examined with the goal to come up with a comprehensive plan to attack the state’s meth problem that can meet House and Senate approval.

The Senate passed legislation on Monday night allowing the state to sell gift certificates that can be redeemed for the purchase of specialty license plates. Senate Bill 1718, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), aims to enhance the sale of more than 90 specialty license plates offered to Tennessee motorists to display on their registered vehicles.

Specialty license plates represent a wide variety of colleges and universities, branches of the military, special interest organizations, professional organizations and other topics. 

Part of the $36 fee charged for the plates goes to support a wide variety of art activities in Tennessee, including ticket subsidies for students. The plates generated over $4.4 million last year to help promote visual, literary, performing and folk art, and the organizations which support them.

“If enacted, this legislation will allow consumers to buy gift certificates for their family and friends that they can redeem for the specialty plate of their choice,” said Norris. “The arts generate over $132.4 million in Tennessee annually, affecting 4,000 jobs in the state. Many people don’t realize how much good this program does to promote the arts and preserve our heritage.”

Two million of the six million vehicles in the state participate in the specialty plate program. Norris hopes that the gift certificate program will boost sales.

“This should be a tremendous help in boosting sales of the plates,” added Norris.”

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