Methamphetamine: Federal Bill Passes as Part of USA Patriot Act 3/10/06

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The USA Patriot Act is ostensibly designed to protect Americans from the foreign terrorist threat, but its most immediate impact will be to protect Americans from Sudafed. When Congress approved the Patriot Act this week, it also approved an anti-methamphetamine bill that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), head of the House Judiciary Committee, attached to it in hopes of swift passage. The meth portion of the Patriot Act will impose nationwide restrictions on the sale of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in popular home cooking meth recipes.

"The legislation includes critical anti-drug provisions that we hope will stem the flow of methamphetamine into our communities," said a happy Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the speaker of the House. "Meth is a dangerous drug, and it's causing some real pain in cities and towns across America. I'm hopeful that these provisions will help law enforcement impact a problem that is destroying so many of America's youth."

Starting 30 days after President Bush signs the law into effect, people seeking relief for runny noses will have to produce identification and sign a register to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine. They will also face limits on the number of pills they can buy. Purchasers will be restricted to 300 30-milligram pills in a month or 120 in a single day. There is an exception for "single use" packages. Such products must be stored out of the reach of customers.

Restrictions on access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine has been a popular response to meth cooking in the states. States such as Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oregon have reported significant decreases in meth labs after passing such legislation. But home-cooked meth accounts for only a small fraction -- perhaps 20% -- of all methamphetamine, and the same states reporting reduced meth lab busts are also reporting increases in purer, higher quality methamphetamine, usually imported from Mexico. Perhaps the meth bill could more aptly be called the "Mexican Methamphetamine Market Share Enhancement Act."

But wait, there's more. The bill authorizes $585 million for law enforcement, training, and research on treatment, and it includes provisions that will make more offenders eligible for stiffer sentences as "kingpins." It also includes a provision that creates a new penalty of up to 20 years in prison for people who sell or cook meth in a home where a child lives -- even if the child is not present.

The Drug Policy Alliance's national affairs director, Bill Piper, told DRCNet in December the foreseeable result of the "save the children" provision will be the mass incarceration of meth-addicted parents. "Basically, if you have a kid and commit a meth offense you can get up to 20 years, and that's on top of the underlying offense," said Piper. "Most people who make meth in their homes or who are low-level sellers are meth addicts. Mothers are going to get long prison sentences and have their children put in foster care when treatment would be the appropriate response. At least it's not a mandatory minimum."

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Issue #426 -- 3/10/06

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Feature: Five Years On, California's Proposition 36 Claims Success, But Faces New Struggles | Feature: Pilot Methadone Maintenance Program for Jail Inmates Off to Good Start, New Mexico Officials Say | Web Site: A Friendly Reminder About the Drug War Chronicle Archives Page -- New Marijuana-Only Archives Now Available Too | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Methamphetamine: Federal Bill Passes as Part of USA Patriot Act | Methamphetamine: SAMHSA Release Misleads on Treatment Numbers, Press Bites | Medical Marijuana: Steve Kubby Freed From Jail -- Lost 25 Pounds in Six Weeks | Canada: Another Week, Another Attack on the Cannabis Industry | Europe: Edinburgh "Drug Czar" Says Time to Consider Prescribing Heroin | Africa: Morocco's Campaign Against Hashish Growing Has Peasants Grumbling, Protesting | Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Crop to Expand This Year, UN Says | The Debate: Reformers and a Prohibitionist Respond to Favorable Wall Street Journal Editorial | Media Scan: Reformers and UN Drug Chief Debate on the BBC This Weekend | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Opening: Communications Assistant, Drug Policy Alliance, New York | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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