By Tommy Chapman
District Attorney circuit 35, representing Monroe and Conecuh Counties
The state of Alabama is beginning to turn the corner in the battle against meth production.
Earlier this year, Governor Bentley signed a law that gives our state some of the toughest anti-meth laws in the country. Once fully implemented in January, the law will make Alabama citizens safer and take the fight to meth dealers.
For starters, the law creates a drug offender registry. This means any person charged with certain meth-related offenses will be automatically blocked from purchasing medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE). Some criminals have misused these medicines to make methamphetamine. The registry thus makes it harder for criminals to peddle the drug on our streets.
The new registry will work in concert with Alabama’s electronic blocking system. My colleagues and I use the system to track PSE purchases and attempted purchases by individuals whom we suspect are doing so for illegal purposes. Under the system, store clerks can automatically block illegal attempted purchases at the point of sale. With the registry, the technology will be even more effective.
The law also bolsters penalties for meth-related crimes, including the practice of smurfing—when dealers hire friends to buy small quantities of PSE from multiple stores. This was important both in terms of making sure that crime doesn’t pay, and for sending a wider signal across the state that Alabama is serious in eradicating this scourge.
The new law is noteworthy for taking a balanced approach in the fight against meth. It’s important that any laws give appropriate weight to the needs and rights of honest citizens. Alabama’s new law does that by respecting the need of law-abiding Alabamans to access all appropriate medicines and therapies to treat popular cold and allergy medicine.
It worth noting that of the 27 states that have passed their own illegal sales blocking legislation, 25 states have decided that electronic tracking is the most appropriate solution. Just two states, on the other hand, have chosen a prescription-only route. I believe such a policy would be wrong for Alabama. Not only do prescription-only laws lead to increased costs for law-abiding consumers, there’s also little evidence that it would address meth’s overall impact.
Consider this: the vast majority of meth sold in the United States comes from Mexico, despite the fact that the Mexican government outlawed PSE in 2007. Secondly, ask any police officer and they’ll tell you that prescription drug abuse is one of the biggest problems facing our communities. It stands to reason that a prescription requirement for PSE would not stop meth cooks from obtaining the ingredients they need to make the drug.
The fight against meth needs to focus on targeting criminals and leaving law-abiding Alabamans free to live their lives as they see fit. Good laws empower law enforcement officials, and leave decent citizens alone.
The virtue of the recent law is that it strikes this fine balance. Let’s give it ample time to work and see what the women and men of Alabama’s law enforcement agencies can do to win the fight against meth.
The author is Tommy Chapman, District Attorney from Circuit 35, representing Monroe and Conecuh Counties. Mr. Chapman is a past president of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association and active in the National District Attorney’s Association.