West Virginia lawmakers ended their 60-day session by passing a bill that it would be harder to produce illegal drugs. The Senate passed unanimously, and the House of Delegates by an 80-8 vote, a bill that would place tighter purchase limits on cold remedies used to make methamphetamines.
Those who sought to buy pseudoephedrine would be barred from purchasing more than 3.6 grams per day, 7.2 grams per month, or 48 grams per year. Presently, cold remedy purchases are limited to nine grams per month. Pharmacies are also required to keep these pseudoephedrine products behind the counter.
In addition, the bill would require West Virginia to join a tracking system for cold remedy purchases, although lawmakers would need to renew enrollment in the National Precursor Log Exchange by January 2015. While there would be no cap on the amount of prescription pseudoephedrine, the bill would increase scrutiny of pain drug prescriptions, as well as increase oversight of methadone treatment centers. Pseudoephedrine that could not be used to make meth would be exempt from cap limits.
Illegal meth production in home laboratories has long been a problem in West Virginia. It is one reason the state has wrestled with a different problem, overcrowded prisons, which lawmakers also sought to correct in the latest session. The latest bill would add 200 beds to a prison-based drug treatment program. Offenders who completed the program could receive a reduced sentence. Those who violated parole and probation would also gain a reprieve: instead of being returned to prison, they would receive incremental sanctions. The bill did not satisfy everyone. Some felt that the scope of the bill was too far reduced, while Republican lawmakers opposed many provisions, including that would convert the last six months of a drug offender’s sentence to early parole.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm support efforts by lawmakers to both limit the ability to purchase components to make illegal drugs and offer alternatives to those convicted of possessing drugs. Drug use can be destructive, but it should not mean a life sentence when you have the ability to turn your life around. West Virginia criminal defense attorneys spend too much time trying to defend clients on drug charges or working out plea bargains with the prosecutors. While a certain percentage of users and distributors are dangerous, many are just ordinary people struggling with an addiction. If they were given the opportunity to clean up, and to address the problems that led them to drugs in the first place, they could return to society and not be a burden on taxpayers. Long prison sentences should not be doled out indiscriminately. We hope that the new legislation creating a drug treatment program produces good results.
The only concern about the caps on the amount of pseudoephedrine is that it could end up harming someone who never intended to use the medicine to make meth. It is entirely possible that there are people who just like to stock up on certain medications in case they need them. The new caps imposed by law would just make these people and others into criminal suspects. Hopefully lawmakers have taken that into consideration.