Meth makers may face harsher penalties
by Kellen Moore
House Bill 29, which passed the House last week and is now in Senate committee, does two main things.
First, the bill makes it illegal for a person previously convicted of meth possession or manufacturing to possess pseudoephedrine, a component of some cold medicines that is used in making the illegal drug.
Second, the bill lengthens the sentences for people convicted of meth manufacturing if it can be proven they "cooked" on a property inhabited by a person younger than 18, certain elderly adults or adults with physical or mental disabilities. The minimum prison term would increase by either two or four years, depending on the circumstances, for a person convicted under this new law.
If enacted, the law would apply to offenses committed on or after Dec. 1, 2013.
Sheriff Len Hagaman said he favored any law that strengthened penalties for misusing pseudoephedrine.
"The sad part is, it's probably like a lot of other drugs," he said. "It has great pharmaceutical benefits for people that have sinus issues and such, and it's definitely got a place if it's used properly."
It may be slightly less likely today that the drug is made in the presence of children, as meth cooks are increasingly using small, mobile meth labs as opposed to large, in-house setups, Hagaman said.
But the problem still exists, he emphasized.
"It's pretty common for folks to have kids around," Hagaman said. "It sounds crazy, but we've had people where they brought their kids to the cook house because they don't have any child care.
"One exposure is too many."
The measure also has the support of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.
"Meth labs threaten our communities with crime, addiction, and even fires, explosions and toxic chemicals," Cooper said. "We're working hard to find and stop these dangerous drug labs, and stronger laws will help us."
Meth lab busts in North Carolina reached a new high in 2012 with 460 meth labs, although Watauga County's totals actually fell.
More than 70 meth lab busts have occurred statewide so far in 2013, according to Cooper's office.
Law enforcement and legislators continue to work on the problem of methamphetamine abuse. For the last two years, Hagaman has been part of a subcommittee that is exploring, among other things, a recommendation to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug.
"We just keep chipping away at it," Hagaman said.