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ACLU threatens suit about attempt to crack down on meth

Thursday, October 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file suit against two towns' efforts to crack down on production of methamphetamine.

Earlier this year, the town of Washington, Mo., in Franklin County adopted an ordinance requiring a prescription to purchase any cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. Union, also in Franklin County, adopted a similar ordinance Tuesday.

Now these ordinances are under attack by the ACLU.

The legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Anthony Rothert, said the recent actions taken by these cities to make pseudoephedrine only available by prescription are an "overreach of government power."

Pseudoephedrine is used in some over-the-counter cold medicines like Sudafed.

Rothert said the newly enacted laws had "good intentions, but (the cities) have been given a lot of misinformation." What they did was wrong, he said, because "municipalities do not have the authority under state law" to enact laws making certain drugs only available by prescription.

The two cities' ordinances are different from federal law, which limits the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine to three packages or 9 grams in a single transaction. Missouri state law takes it further, limiting such sales to 9 grams in a 30-day period for an individual.

According to Washington Mayor Dick Stratman and Union City Administrator Russell Rost, the cities had contacted the Missouri Attorney General's office and had gotten approval for the ordinances. They said the office was going to issue an official ruling later.

In response to the ACLU's claim that the cities acted in error and could face legal action, Union City Attorney Tim Melenbrink said, "Nothing prohibits cities from putting such an ordinance together." He said the rules say "if a city law does not contradict a state law, then it's OK."

Stratman said he supports the passing of the ordinance "100 percent" because by stopping easy access to the ingredients, the city can perhaps cut down on the number of labs.

"Meth labs are bad for your communities," Stratman said. "It's bad for the neighborhoods, children and the first responders that can be hurt by meth lab explosions."

Rost said he supports his city's unanimous decision to pass the ordinance, but he has "mixed feelings" about the situation.

"I feel it's important to control pseudoephedrine to fight the meth problem, and we want to support our local drug task force, however we only had to step in because the state failed," Rost said. He said he wants the state to take the call to action and create a statewide law because municipal ordinances aren't as effective.

House Crime Prevention Committee chairman Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, has proposed for the last two years a measure that would impose a prescription requirement. The measure cleared the Crime Prevention Committee this year but was rejected for full House consideration by the House Rules Committee.

"The cities are taking the first step, which is a good thing," Lipke said. "There is a benefit seeing on a smaller scale how it actually works in these communities," which will then create facts, and "if we use facts, we will win the debate. We just have to get the word out to the people."

The concern over the legality and ethics of these ordinances don't lie just with the ACLU.

Missouri Pharmacy Association CEO Ron Fitzwater said that he is "concerned about individual communities going around and doing this." The issue at hand, he said, is "patients' access to legal products."

Fitzwater said he thinks there are better alternatives to controlling pseudoephedrine and should be tackled at the state level.

According to Fitzwater, the Consumer Health Products Association is offering to completely fund a statewide tracking database that will allow "pharmacists to have real-time information and communicate with law enforcement."

He said that a large number of chain stores in the state use this system effectively and with a statewide program, it will be even better. A better database would be one that tracked beyond the Missouri borders, he said, preventing people from just going to a neighboring state for pseudoephedrine.

Lipke argued that a database like that is not effective because it takes too many work hours to compile the database and is easily circumvented.

"Even if it's paid for by someone else, why do it if it doesn't work? By doing this, it will just get worse with time," he said.

City ordinances do not have to face as much investigation as legislation being passed at the state level, Rothert of the ACLU said.

"There is a lower level of investigation at the city than at the state legislature," he said. By not having all the information these ordinances "will cause a hardship for people that don't have access to a doctor or insurance. The federal and state governments have decided it's safe, so why don't the cities?"

Detective Scott Briggs of the Franklin County Drug Task Force — the main contributor of information to the cities of Washington and Union that aided in the decision of passing the ordinances — said they had the proper information.

"From our investigations we have watched people involved in the distribution and production going from store to store, called smurfing, we need to limit their ability to do that," Briggs said. He also said, "We have used tracking on a smaller scale, but that was ineffective. It's too time-consuming."

Before making the decision, Union city staff contacted local physicians and asked them to adjust their method of issuing prescriptions under the new law, Rost said.

Not only is this the best method to control illegal uses of pseudoephedrine, Rost said, but it may also end up being cheaper for patients because there are no taxes on prescription medicine.


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr October 15, 2009 | 4:36 a.m.

Oh I can hear the Libertarians screaming now.........

We really need more such laws across our entire nation because it is true Meth is one nasty and very addictive drug.

Cut off the supply of the ingredients to make it and you in turn can cut off the drug in time but it takes time.

(Report Comment)
John Beaumonte October 15, 2009 | 7:10 a.m.

Isn't Franklin county the largest meth-producing county in the state? What are you really afraid of ACLU? Mmmmm?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 15, 2009 | 10:24 a.m.

And what have all of those laws and all of those arrests done for the county Chuck? The War on Some Drugs is an epic failure, costing lives and money while making drug barons rich.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 15, 2009 | 12:34 p.m.

John Schultz the only reason the war on Meth itself has been a failure is because they did not cut off it's supplies of the chemicals needed to make it.

The war on Pot and Cocaine is a different animal. Both can be imported in but Meth itself has a semi short life span where after time it breaks down into some very nasty chemicals nobody would want.

This is especially true with the Anhydrous Ammonia method of cooking.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 15, 2009 | 1:07 p.m.

So are you calling for the outright ban of Sudafed across the country? I don't think the anti-smurfing laws have really worked. If tweakers get desperate enough, they will hold up stores or delivery trucks looking for the drug, buy it from Mexican cartels (such as what started coming into Missouri after the first psedudoephedrine laws went into effect), or get crafty with the new shake and bake method.

Prohibition only makes criminals out of drug users and rich folks out of drug pushers. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a group of former law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges who say it is time to end the madness. http://www.leap.cc

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 15, 2009 | 5:17 p.m.

>>> John Schultz October 15, 2009 | 1:07 p.m.
So are you calling for the outright ban of Sudafed across the country? <<<

Where did I post or state I want to see Sudafed banned across the nation?

I do happen to agree with the "by prescription only" way of distribution though as a firmer way of control of this prime ingredient in the making of Meth.

I'm going to go out onto a limb here but as a long time recovering addict I do know what it will take to stop alot of these drug issues across our nation and it is not legalizing them. That will only compound the problem I assure you.

It is though possible to deter and stop drug abuse through education,interdiction and other methods.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 15, 2009 | 5:36 p.m.

Here's where you said it:

"John Schultz the only reason the war on Meth itself has been a failure is because they did not cut off it's supplies of the chemicals needed to make it."

Decriminalizing drugs would reduce the stigma an addict has and encourage them into treament, while reducing the profit of drug pushers, stop cutting into the Constitution, and leave more room in prisons for people who are guilty of far worse crimes.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 16, 2009 | 4:33 a.m.

>>> Decriminalizing drugs would reduce the stigma an addict has and encourage them into treatment <<<

Now that is the biggest line of B.S. I have seen yet on this issue. You are so clueless to the realities of the real hard core drug addicts.

>>> "John Schultz the only reason the war on Meth itself has been a failure is because they did not cut off it's supplies of the chemicals needed to make it." <<<

Yes John you make it as hard as possible for addicts to get those chemicals and one way is by prescription only just like any hard narcotic is and you get tougher by pushing more educational venues to our school age children starting in say the 5th grade.

You get even tougher still by implementing laws that if you get caught and convicted of drug charges you make the long term penalties tougher.

There are many ways to cut off the supply John but you are to blinded by only wanting to legalize it all. Think bigger that a bread box John. Stop living in that proverbial tin can.

If we as a nation are in a war on drugs you fight that war to win and win you do battle by battle and you do not win that long term war by rolling over onto your back like some cowardly dog and tucking your tail between your legs.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 16, 2009 | 9:43 a.m.

Chuckles, will you also require prescriptions or government permission to buy ether, lithium batteries, grow lights, Ziplock bags, scales, and other items that are used in the drug trade?

You've said in the past that you were a recovered addict. Did you ever once say to yourself "Oh no, I can't buy that, it's against the law!" I'm doubting it.

Prohibition is a FAILURE Chuck, get that through your thick head. You're the one not thinking outside of the box by continuing to call for a bigger War on Some Drugs.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 16, 2009 | 3:34 p.m.

Prohibition is only a failure because people like you want it to be. This nation as a whole must be pro-active in the war on drugs if we are all to win the war.

Unfortunately citizens like you John Schultz keep wanting to sabotage those battles that can win the the war in the long run.

The real losers our the children of this nation due to those like you John Schultz Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Boone County.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 16, 2009 | 10:39 p.m.

Chuck, I don't want people using drugs, but as you have shown yourself, addicts don't care about laws and neither do drug dealers. The current strategy is an extreme failure and I'm sorry you can't think outside the box enough to acknowledge that. It will never succeed and hasn't since the Nixon Administration despite the billions of dollars spent, thousands of people jailed, tons of drugs siezed, and untold deaths.

It's better to make drug addiction and recovery a medical issue instead of a law enforcement issue, reduce the profit motive for drug dealers, and eliminate the glamour of drugs to our kids.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 17, 2009 | 4:48 a.m.

>>>

Prohibition is only a failure because people like you want it to be. This nation as a whole must be pro-active in the war on drugs if we are all to win the war.

Unfortunately citizens like you John Schultz keep wanting to sabotage those battles that can win the the war in the long run.

The real losers our the children of this nation due to those like you John Schultz Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Boone County. <<<

I stand by the above statement.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox October 17, 2009 | 8:42 a.m.

Why dose anyone respond to Charles Dudley Jr anymore he is obviously an closed minded hate monger.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 17, 2009 | 8:55 a.m.

Eric Cox because they cannot help themselves just like you could not with your post above.

Closed minded? Not really but obviously this area of the country is so Liberal it seems that way to you all. ^_^

(Report Comment)
Jas Iron October 17, 2009 | 11:11 p.m.

John I agree with you. I've worked the Joint Task Forces (Drug Units) in Florida and dealt with the repeat offenders. The War on Drugs is a failure. Addiction must be dealt with in rehabilitation centers, not long prison sentences. It's easy to "Arm Chair Quarterback" this topic. A 20 oz. bag of Pot will land you in jail for a year. Do you know how much it cost to house this person? Food, Medical, Shelter, Recreation and not to mention the persons family, who will no doubt start collecting food stamps / welfare services while they are in jail. All for POT. Something that should be taxed and sold just like Beer. What about Meth? They must get rehab.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 18, 2009 | 4:59 a.m.

>>> They must get rehab. <<<

Alot of criminals these days told by the courts they must go to a 30 day rehab or face doing their back up time given to them right along side their probation.

If we are at war against drugs then why isn't our military stationed at all ports of entry?

If you as a nation and community want to win this war then stop being such pacifists and actually demand a bigger and better response and stop wussy footing around about it.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 18, 2009 | 6:29 a.m.

Jas Iron wrote:

"A 20 oz. bag of Pot will land you in jail for a year"

You mean 20 gram, don't you? 20 ounces is 1 1/4 pounds, and would probably be prima facie evidence of intent to distribute.

Chuck wrote:

"If we are at war against drugs then why isn't our military stationed at all ports of entry?"

Because there are too few soldiers and too many points of entry. Plus, most of our soldiers are in the Middle East.

Even in countries that put drug users to death, there are still drug users. Any time there is such a strong demand for a product, there will arise entrepreneurs that will supply them.

A lot of people make a lot of money off the war on drugs, including the legal profession, and government at all levels. If there was a real incentive to change the system, someone would have changed it by now.

DK

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 18, 2009 | 9:04 a.m.

>>> Because there are too few soldiers and too many points of entry. <<<

So all of our National Guardsmen are just sitting around doing not much huh?

Sounds like we need to go on a recruiting drive for some kind of a special military Police Force that can work on this war on drugs and help to secure our obviously not very secure ports of entry.

Israel does it why can't we?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 18, 2009 | 8:14 p.m.

Chuck wrote:

"Israel does it why can't we?"

Because Israel is a country about the size of Connecticut, with only about 80 miles of coastline. I think the US (lower 48) has about 10,000 miles of coastline.

I don't think it's worth it to raise such a force. When there is such a strong demand for a product, the market will furnish it. The war on drugs has failed, and continues to fail. The only reason it continues is some people in power benefit from it.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley October 19, 2009 | 1:48 a.m.

The war on drugs is and has been a miserable failure.... Even when we take hard line approaches in other countries that have allowed for us to assassinate high level drug dealers, we have still failed. Drug consumption in the USA has went up.

But.. The Law Enforcement Community makes money from it, heck they get Federal Grants to "fight" the "War On Drugs"..

Prosecutors are racking up the hours in prosecuting drug cases, and by doing so they need more people on their staffs. Seems like the "War On Drugs" is creating jobs... LOL.

$90.00 a day to house one inmate in a county jail. So, the Jail Staff is making a living from our "War On Drugs"... But that hardly seems worth it to any tax payer that I know of...

But, I have yet to see one addict positively benefit from this "War On Drugs".....

Let's stop fooling ourselves... We have not figured out an intelligent way to handle this problem yet.. We are just "sandbagging" a huge flood, thus far..

I can tell you this though, doing the same thing that you have always done and expecting to get different results is complete INSANITY!

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 19, 2009 | 4:34 a.m.

Well I guess I am just an Optimist at times and I still think this can be won.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley October 19, 2009 | 8:48 a.m.

This is just he Newspaper's SPIN on this topic, anyway.

I think the Newspaper headline would have read "ACLU Promoting Meth Production" if it could have gotten away with it...

The ACLU is simply saying that a local municipality should not have the authority to regulate what medications one should have a prescription for. And I agree with them...

And to the Union City Attorney Tim Melenbrink, whom I think may have went to Law School at the Union City Community College; I think you need to try to understand the structure of law a little better. I know that I am not an attorney, but even I know that although the general rule is that a municipality may pass laws more restrictive than the state, but not less restrictive, and the same applies for state versus federal authority, it is not quite as broad as you would have us believe. Many examples of this can be cited... Narcotics regulation is not a task that has ever been reserved or assigned to a local municipality...

Trying to regulate the precursors to meth production is not only ignorant, it is DANGEROUS! Now, the better approach may be to institute a database that people have to show ID and be entered into to purchase certain precursors. This way the problem can be tracked, and the perps that abusing can be intelligently dealt with by Law Enforcement. Not as costly as making certain precursors prescription only, and not much different than what Radio Shack already does.

"Yes Mr. Police Officer, I really do have it all figured out; now if only I could get everyone to listen to me"...

Rick.

(Report Comment)

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