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DFLers, Republicans offer anti-meth legislation
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Attorney General Mike Hatch said he's exploring a civil lawsuit against companies that distribute pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, ingredients used to make methamphetamine. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Minnesota lawmakers say one of their first priorities this session is tackling the growing problem of methamphetamine. Attorney General Mike Hatch and DFL legislators released a sweeping proposal on Thursday to curb the drug's manufacture and distribution, and House Republicans introduced their own meth bill. Legislators say the state can't afford a repeat of last session, when lawmakers failed to agree on meth legislation.

St. Paul, Minn. — Law enforcement officers who see the growing impact of methamphetamine firsthand say meth is far more dangerous than any other drug they've encountered. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher says meth is easier to make and more addictive than marijuana, cocaine and crack.

"The drug keeps changing. It evolves. The chemistry to produce these things keeps getting better on the criminal side, and it becomes more powerful and more addictive," he said.

Fletcher supports legislation proposed by Democrats that would restrict access to the products used in making meth. A main ingredient is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, found in common over-the-counter cold medicine like Sudafed.

DFL Sen. Wes Skoglund of Minneapolis says his bill would require that those products be stored behind drugstore counters. There's general agreement among lawmakers that the sale of those products needs to be limited and monitored. Skoglund says his bill would go a step further.

"We're finding that products for animals -- certain veterinary products -- can be distilled into methamphetamine, and we're going to require similar steps from the places that sell veterinary products," he said.

DFLers also want to make it a felony to dispose of methamphetamine waste and study the best treatment for meth addicts. Skoglund says he's not sure exactly how much his proposal will cost, but said at some point, the state will need to build a new prison to house meth offenders. Skoglund estimates that about 700 meth offenders are currently in Minnesota prisons.

We are noticing that a lot of kids in junior high and high school that are A students and that have a great home life are starting to get hooked on meth, and it's going to wreck their lives.
- Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth

Many lawmakers say the problem is so vast that it calls for a bipartisan approach. Republican Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, who sponsored meth legislation last year, says she welcomes the push by DFLers.

"I'm very thankful that we are getting something done, and we're joining forces. That's what we need to do. This walk-away drug is going to just keep its fingers in our state and infect our entire communities if we don't do something now," she said.

Two months ago, Gov. Pawlenty proposed a $3.5 million methamphetamine package. It would fund 10 new narcotics agents at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and increase penalties for meth manufacturers and users who endanger children. It would also create a state revolving loan fund for meth lab clean-up.

House Republicans have introduced a meth bill with similar components, including increased penalties and a clean-up fund. The bill's sponsor, Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, says the problem also extends to the suburbs.

"We are noticing that a lot of kids in junior high and high school that are A students and that have a great home life are starting to get hooked on meth, and it's going to wreck their lives," he said.

Johnson says he's confident that the House will pass tough methamphetamine legislation that may have many similarities with the DFL proposals. Last session, meth bills never made it to a conference committee where lawmakers could resolve differences. Supporters of the legislation say that can't happen this year. They say the state needs to act quickly to tackle a problem that is growing by the day.