Tennessee's meth laws fail on all fronts

Tennessee's meth laws fail on all fronts

January 15th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

The laws that make pseudoephedrine, the nasal decongestant used as an ingredient used in meth production, frustratingly difficult to purchase have failed in reducing meth production.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Imagine this scenario:

A man makes his way to a counter where an agent, who ultimately acts as an informant for the government, inspects his driver's license or passport to make sure the man meets certain requirements. The man is presumed guilty.

The agent then enters the man's name, birthdate and other personal data into a massive database that stores his information and allows the government to track where he goes and limits what he can buy.

I'm not describing the procedure to buy an assault rifle, or the immigration process required to enter the United States.

It's actually the ridiculous rigmarole that Tennesseans are subjected to in order to buy a box of Sudafed.

Volunteer State lawmakers promised that this annoying instance of excessive government would curb meth production in the state.

It hasn't.

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In Tennessee, medicine that contains pseudoephedrine - such as Sudafed, Actifed, Contac and Claritin-D - can only be sold in pharmacies and must be kept behind the counter. Purchasing pseudoephedrine requires a customer to present a photo ID to a store employee and to sign for the purchase.

The store employee then enters the customer's personal information into a government database meant to prevent an individual from purchasing more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine - about three boxes - in a 30-day span.

The laws that make pseudoephedrine, the nasal decongestant used as an ingredient used in meth production, frustratingly difficult to purchase have failed in reducing meth production, according to a new study by the Tennessee Comptroller's Offices of Research and Education Accountability.

The study found that since an improved database system was introduced and tougher monitoring began to track pseudoephedrine sales in January 2012, "Methamphetamine lab incidents ... have not decreased substantially and remain at high levels."

In 2010, the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force counted 2,082 meth labs in the state - a record number. Last year, despite the stiffer laws and spending tens of millions of state and federal tax dollars to address meth production, state agents still uncovered 1,808 labs.

When lawmakers enacted laws to restrict pseudoephedrine sales, they apparently thought they could outsmart meth cooks. Instead, meth makers got to work finding ways around the laws.

First, they began gathering groups of people to purchase legal amounts of pseudoephedrine for them. With a large enough band of helpers, they could still easily collect more than enough pseudoephedrine to cook meth.

Second, meth producers came up with newer meth recipes, such as the "one-pot" or "shake and bake" method. These new methods, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, require fewer ingredients, less space and "equipment no more complicated than a single bottle."

State law enforcement officials agree that the state's laws to thwart meth production are failing.

The comptroller's study indicates that only 39 percent of law enforcement personnel perceived enhanced electronic tracking as "very effective." Just 40 percent of law enforcement officers believe that "decreasing the sales limits for pseudoephedrine purchases" was "a very effective policy option."

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Rather than hampering meth production, the convoluted laws governing pseudoephedrine instead made it more difficult for Tennesseans to feel better when they catch a cold.

The study found that, rather than being subjected to the invasive and irksome laws related to pseudoephedrine, some customers instead purchased other less-effective products. Only "39 percent of customers purchasing pseudoephedrine alternatives indicated that they thought the alternatives appear to work as well."

State lawmakers had the best of intentions when they instituted laws attempting to reduce meth production in Tennessee. The laws, however, have failed by any measure.

Meth cooks have figured out ways to circumvent the laws and, as a result, meth production is near an all-time high.

It seems the laws are only successful in keeping pseudoephedrine products out of the hands of Tennesseans hoping to cure a stuffy nose.

Meth is a serious problem in Tennessee. The solution, however, is not to make law-abiding Tennesseans the victim of bad legislation.