Anti-Meth Law Leverages Patriot Act

30-day limit at heart of legislation

Published in CSP Daily News

WASHINGTON -- Cold remedies that can be used by drug dealers to make methamphetamine would be forced behind store counters under legislation Congress is poised to pass by year's end, said the Associated Press.

Lawmakers hope that federal restrictions included in the agreement reached Thursday to reauthorize the Patriot Act will stem a meth trade that has hit rural America particularly hard. A number of states have already moved to curb the sale of cold pills containing pseudoephedrine, the ingredient used to cook meth in makeshift labs. The federal law [image-nocss] would prevent meth makers from moving to states with weaker laws.

Stores would be required to keep medicines like Sudafed and Nyquil behind the counter and consumers would be limited to 3.6 grams, or about 120 pills, per day and 9 grams, or about 300 pills, a month. Purchasers would also need to show a photo ID and sign a logbook. Those limits target meth dealers who buy large quantities of the drugs to extract the pseudoephedrine.

The measure is a compromise reached after months of haggling over the 30-day limit. Senators Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who pushed the legislation in the Senate, insisted the limit was needed to curb the meth epidemic. The heart of this legislation is a strong standard for keeping pseudoephedrine products out of the hands of meth cooks, Feinstein said.

"The Combat Meth Act is the toughest anti-meth bill ever considered by the Congress, and it will help people in neighborhoods all across Missouri and the country who are threatened by meth," said Talent in a statement.

Feinstein said, "This legislation strikes a blow against the meth epidemic. The heart of this legislation is a strong standard for keeping pseudophedrine products out of the hands of meth cooks. This includes a limit on how much cold medicine with pseudophedrine can be purchased in a 30-day period, moving these products behind the counter, and requiring purchasers to show identification and sign a log book.

She added, There were some who wanted to water down this legislation, but Sen. Talent and I stood firm. The experience in Oklahoma, Iowa and other states shows that by taking these steps we can have an immediate and dramatic effect on the meth crisis. I know that many in the Senate have significant concerns remaining about the Patriot Act, but I am nevertheless pleased to see that the Combat Meth Act has moved one step closer to passage."

The deal makes good on pledges by Republican leaders of the House and Senate to act on the nation's burgeoning meth epidemic by year's end, a report by The Oregonian said in November. But linking the landmark meth bill to such a controversial topic as the Patriot Act bothers some legislators, including Representative Brian Baird (D-Wash.), a co-founder of the Congressional Meth Caucus. Baird said that he and other legislators who want to attack meth problems have deep reservations about the updated Patriot Act. By merging the bills, Republican leaders could force some members to make a difficult choice on a meth bill that likely would have passed by a wide margin if allowed a separate floor vote, Baird said.

"I don't see any reason to attach it to a bigger bill," he told the newspaper. "It would not be a seemly way to deal with it."

But the maneuver could help clear remaining roadblocks laid by Republicans in both chambers. The 30-day limit was added over the objection of House members concerned about the impact on small retailers. And it probably will turn back a secret hold placed on an anti-meth bill in the Senate. The compromise measure effectively combines bills that seek to control meth and its precursor chemicals by different means.

The House bill, backed by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), would track sales of pseudoephedrine from source factories and allow the State Department to cut aid to countries that import amounts it deems excessive.

The new bill is weaker than one passed by the Senate in September that would have required cold remedies to be sold from the pharmacy counter. That would have prevented many stores without pharmacies, such as convenience stores and some supermarkets, from carrying the pills.

We're pleased to see the current compromise, said Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which represents grocery stores and other retailers. It addresses a serious law enforcement concern, but in a way that balances the need for consumer access to safe and effective products.

Hammonds said he was disappointed the federal bill would not pre-empt more restrictive laws in states like Oklahoma and Iowa, where cold remedies are sold from behind pharmacy counters. At least 37 states have enacted laws to restrict the sale of cold medications to starve meth manufacturers of their key ingredient.

Many leading retailers including Kmart, Walgreens, Target, Wal-Mart have already adopted guidelines to limit customer access to cold products or to limit their sales.

Some drug makers have changed the ingredients in cold pills to take out pseudoephedrine and replace it with another substance, phenylephrine, that cannot be used to make meth. A new product called Sudafed PE is already on store shelves, though the old Sudafed is still available.

The measure would provide nearly $100 million a year for five years to train state and local law enforcement to nab meth offenders and would expand funding to prosecute dealers and clean up environmentally toxic meth labs. Talent called the measure the toughest anti-meth bill ever considered by Congress. He predicted that it would help reduce the number of clandestine labs where the illegal drug is made with common items like household cleaners and coffee filters.

Passage of the measure could take place as early as next week, when Republican leaders press for a vote on the anti-terrorism bill. Some opponents who claim Patriot Act threatens civil liberties are threatening a filibuster unless changes are made.

Click here to read Talent's full statement regarding anti-meth legislation.