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January 17, 2006 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Meth Bill Proposes Sweeping Reforms

Tougher Penalties, Task Forces Among Recommendations

By Richard Roesler, Staff writer

OLYMPIA ­ Rattling off a long list of the societal costs of methamphetamine ­ toxic labs, theft, children taken from their parents, ruined lives ­ state Attorney General Rob McKenna and half a dozen lawmakers Monday called for tougher penalties and more treatment.

"You have to have both," McKenna told a Senate committee.

Among the changes they're proposing: spending $1.1 million a year through 2010 to set up three drug task forces to help rural counties. Two of the three would focus on sparsely populated Eastern Washington counties, such as Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille.

"We have been kind of a collecting point," said John Didion, sheriff in Pacific County, which would be served by the third task force. "Whenever the federal task forces around us squeeze, the methamphetamine users kind of ooze into our county."

Senate Bill 6239 and House Bill 2712 would:

  • Refill with state money any more federal cutbacks to the state's drug task forces.
  • Expand treatment of meth users by setting up a grant system for counties. The amount of the grants is still undetermined, but McKenna said adding 100 treatment beds would cost about $2 million a year. "Treatment is hard, and it takes many, many months," he told lawmakers at a hearing Monday. "But if they are willing to go through treatment, it should be available to them."
  • Limit "good time" credit for prison inmates convicted of meth offenses to no more than one-third of the sentence. It's currently 50 percent.
  • Allow health officers to get search warrants to inspect suspected labs and seize property.
  • Allow cities and counties to prohibit use of or entry to contaminated property.
  • Require enhanced sentences for meth ­ such as for manufacturing it close to a school bus stop ­ to be served consecutively with the main sentence, instead of simultaneously.

"Basically, this bill is everything including the kitchen sink," said Sen. Jim Hargrove, prime sponsor of the Senate version.

The total cost to taxpayers is unclear. Sen. Stephen Johnson, R-Kent, estimated the changes would cost around $10 million a year. McKenna said that replacing the federal cuts would cost about $4 million a year and that setting up the three new state task forces for rural areas would cost about $1 million more.

"I would suggest there's way more savings than cost," Hargrove said.

More people free of meth, McKenna said, means fewer prison inmates, lower court costs, fewer children in foster care and fewer crime victims. In fact, more than 80 percent of the foster-care court cases handled by his office, he said, involve parents who use methamphetamine.

"The costs of meth to the state are easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year," McKenna said.

At Monday's hearing, Sen. Mike Carrell said he's frustrated that meth bills keep coming before the Legislature without apparent effect. Last year, for example, the state restricted sales of pseudoephedrine, a common cold medicine that can be used to make meth.

"Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?" said Carrell, R-Lakewood.

"I don't think there is one single solution, or we wouldn't have the scope of the problem that we do right now," said Mike Whelan, Grays Harbor County sheriff. "But I think there is a solution."

Some of the state's efforts to fight meth use seem to be paying off, McKenna said.

The number of meth labs found in Washington last year was about half the 2,000 found five years ago. But he said that drug traffickers have stepped up their efforts to feed demand and that about three-quarters of the meth in Washington is brought in from out of state, particularly from Southern California, British Columbia and Mexico.

January 17, 2006 - King County Journal (WA)

Officials Put Focus On Meth Addicts

By Mike Baker, Associated Press

OLYMPIA -- After years of targeting home-based methamphetamine laboratories, state and law enforcement officials are shifting focus, taking aim at meth addicts themselves.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, along with the 26-member task force "Operation: Allied Against Meth," is backing legislation that focuses on longer prison sentences and emphasizes substance abuse treatment.

"Our jails and prisons are filling up with people who have been convicted of meth offenses and offenses related to their meth addiction," McKenna said, citing a Spokane survey that determined that 93 percent of inmates convicted of felony property crimes were meth users.

The measure, targeting the consumers more than the producers of meth, aired in a Senate committee Monday. It would lengthen the penalties of meth offenders by requiring sentences to be served consecutively. Longer sentences will allow the state adequate time to wean addicts off of the highly addictive stimulant, McKenna said.

"It is harder to treat a meth addiction than it is to treat an addiction for cocaine or heroin or other hard drugs," McKenna said. "Someone who comes out of jail or prison addicted to meth will go right back to their old behaviors. Therefore, treatment is an essential component."

To provide care, the state will launch a treatment pilot project specifically for meth users. About 100 new treatment beds would be established.

To target meth addicts in all facets of life, the bill would re-enact Washington's Drug-Free Work Place standards, which expired in 2001. That legislation compensates employers for keeping employees off drugs.

Additionally, the state will make rural counties a priority, providing more than $1 million per year for drug enforcement. Meth users are proportionally high in rural regions, and some Washington counties don't have federally funded task forces.

"This helps to raise up those communities who have little to no money for drug enforcement," said Grays Harbor County Sheriff Mike Whelan.

In total, McKenna's meth push will cost the state around $10 million per year, said policy director Chris Johnson.

"The long-term savings are so far in excess than the money invested," said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, the Senate bill's primary sponsor. "I don't see it as a cost, I see it as an investment."

Hargrove pointed out that repeat offenders -- common for meth addicts - -- are a burden to victims, the court system, the environment, the state and law enforcement, while Mckenna noted that "meth is the single largest driver of foster care cases in the state."

Gov. Christine Gregoire said Monday that any bill on meth that comes out of the Legislature has to accomplish two things: "How do we make sure that the Pacific Northwest is not a haven for the meth problem? And how do we make sure that we get effective treatment so that these individuals can go on and be good parents and so on?"

McKenna's proposals will also provide more tools to assist in the cleanup of contaminated meth labs.

For years, Washington law enforcement officials targeted meth labs -- ranking near the top of the states for the number of meth kitchens raided annually -- and the ingredients used to cook the drug in homes. Meth ingredients -- pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanoline -- are found in nonprescription cold and allergy medications.

Under a law that went into effect Oct. 1, stores must keep cold and allergy medications behind the counter, and clerks must check identification to ensure that customers are at least 18.

Since July, customers have been limited to purchasing two meth-producing products in a 24-hour period. Since Jan. 1, clerks have started keeping track of who is purchasing the products in order to help law enforcement officials identify repeat buyers.

The number of reported meth labs has dropped by about 50 percent in the last six years, McKenna said.

"But it's important to understand that reducing the number of meth labs is not the same as reducing the amount of meth use," he added.

About 75 percent of Washington's meth comes from outside state borders. To curb that trend, the attorney general is working with Idaho and Oregon to establish a multistate initiative to target meth.

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