Pubdate: Fri, 04 Nov 2005
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.
Note: The Journal does not publish letters from writers outside its daily 
home delivery circulation area.
Author: Mary M. Shaffrey
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Congress May Approve Drug Limits, Prison Terms

A key House subcommittee passed legislation yesterday that would curb 
access to pseudoephedrine-containing drugs and impose mandatory minimum 
sentences for those convicted in federal court of methamphetamine abuse.

The Senate passed a similar version of the bill in September. The House 
version, sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., now goes before the full 
Judiciary Committee, which is expected to vote on the bill later this year.

Local law-enforcement officials from both rural and urban areas have been 
clamoring for greater federal help in dealing with the manufacture and use 
of illegal meth.

The bill, the Meth Epidemic Elimination Act, would require that such 
products as Sudafed be sold in limited quantities. The bill passed the 
subcommittee by a vote of 8-2, and it also imposes strict mandatory minimum 
penalties, which opponents said would do more harm than good.

The penalties are the same for those who manufacture, distribute or possess 

Under the bill, the mandatory minimum penalty for a first-time offender 
found with more than 5 grams of meth would be 10 years in jail. A second 
offense would be punished with a 20-year sentence and a third offense with 
life imprisonment.

"It's too much. It's too tough, and it destroys too many lives," said Rep. 
Maxine Waters, D-Cailf, who opposed the bill.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said that in the 20 years since mandatory minimum 
sentencing began for drug offenders, it has done little to curb drug abuse 
and related crimes.

"This bill won't reduce crime, and it's a waste of taxpayer money because 
it doesn't work," Scott said.

Mary Price, the general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a 
nonpartisan advocacy group opposed to the bill, said that the legislation 
would weaken existing laws. She also argued that pursuing smaller producers 
would allow big-time ones to avoid prosecution. Under current law, a 
mandatory minimum sentence is triggered by possession of 50 grams or more 
of meth.

"We are going to be encouraging a lot of low-level prosecutions," Price said.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the mean length of 
imprisonment for methamphetamine users is a little more than eight years.

Souder's bill allows states to impose stricter laws if they wish.

Under the bill, it would also be illegal to buy more than 3.6 grams of 
pseudoephedrine products per transaction, regardless of whether the 
medication was in pill or liquid form.

This amount is slightly more than what is in a single standard package of 
medication. Current law says that a person can buy up to 9 grams.

Additionally, if the product is not in liquid form, it would need to be 
stored behind the counter.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, supported the bill, but said that this 
provision was a bit extreme because it was punishing those who need the 
medication for legitimate use.

"At least let me buy two packages when I go to the drugstore," said 
Gohmert, who added that he uses the products to stop snoring when he is sick.
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