Joined by legislators and leaders in the law enforcement community, Governor Markell signed two laws today to reduce illegal production of methamphetamine in Delaware by making it harder for criminals to gain access to the materials they need to make meth and giving police tools to crack down on its production.
Markell stood with State Police Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr. and Secretary Lewis Schiliro from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to outline how the laws would close down clandestine labs and help prevent a practice by which criminals make purchases at multiple stores to acquire illegal quantifies of nonprescription pseudoephedrine (PSE), which is then used to produce meth.
"Methamphetamine production and use pose serious, and often deadly, risks for users and manufacturers, as well as innocent people who just happen to live in a community where something goes wrong in a secret meth lab," said Markell during a bill signing ceremony at the Delaware State Police Museum. "Together, these laws help protect our young people from being introduced to highly addictive drugs and they protect our communities from the extreme health and environmental hazards that can result from exposure to meth."
HB 28, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smyk (R-Milton) and Sen. Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna), makes it a Class C felony to operate a clandestine laboratory with the intent to unlawfully manufacture a controlled substance or other substance in violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. A person convicted of operating such a lab would be responsible for associated cleanup costs at the site, recognizing that meth production endangers the people in the labs, neighbors, and the environment because of the potentially explosive and toxic results.
"This bill targets methamphetamine production, but I believe it will be useful for fighting drugs that may not even be on the street yet," said Rep. Smyk. "Police and prosecutors can use this law when dealing with the next problem; the next illegal drug manufactured at tabletop level."
HB 130, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Walker (D-Middletown) and Sen. Bethany A. Hall-Long (D-Middletown), will require that pharmacies and retailers selling pseudoephedrine products over the counter submit identifying information of the purchaser to the National Precursor Log Exchange system. It prohibits pharmacies and retailers from completing pseudoephedrine sales in the event that the National Precursor Log Exchange system generates a stop sale alert.
The legislation also provides that the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators will forward Delaware transaction records to the Drug Diversion Unit of the Delaware State Police weekly and provide real-time access to National Precursor Log Exchange information through the National Precursor Log Exchange online portal to law enforcement in the state.
"Criminals are always looking for ways around our laws, so we as a state have to take action to close off loopholes. In this case, criminals are buying small quantities of pseudoephedrine at multiple pharmacies so they can make methamphetamine," said Rep. Walker, an emergency room nurse and the lead sponsor of HB 130.
"Delaware has seen a significant increase in the number of meth labs and methamphetamine abuse in recent years due to the availability of this drug. The solution is to join 25 other states in a national PSE sales blocking system. By taking advantage of this system and working with pharmacies, healthcare providers and law enforcement throughout the country, we can make it harder for criminals to get their hands on large quantities of PSE and curb meth production while protecting our ability to still obtain this medication legally."
"In Delaware, manufacturing of methamphetamine hasn't reached the level it has in other states," said Sen. Hall-Long, who was the bill's lead Senate sponsor. "We hope this new monitoring system will help us keep the issue in check by making it tougher to get the products needed to make meth. I am pleased to have helped take this new step to protect our children and families."
"We've made a lot of progress at limiting the amount of over-the-counter drugs someone can get within Delaware to make meth," said Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, who supported the law in the Senate. "By joining this interstate effort to track and flag sales of the drugs used in making meth, we're making it harder for people to go back and forth across state lines to buy more than the legal limit. I hope this helps control our meth problem."
Law enforcement agencies throughout the State have seen a steady increase in methamphetamine arrests. The number of meth-related arrests increased nearly 75% from 2011 to 2012. In 2011, there were 23 arrests and in 2012, 40 arrests were made. Delaware has not seen meth-related incidents this high since 2003, when 42 arrests occurred. With this increase, police also are encountering a growing number of clandestine labs used to make meth. In 2011, police uncovered only one meth lab; in 2012, that number increased to 15 and so far this year, police have discovered 11 labs.
"Protecting our families and children from illegal drugs and the crimes that often accompany them is an ongoing battle for Delaware law enforcement," said Secretary Schiliro. "We are very fortunate to be able to work with our Governor and members of our General Assembly who truly have an understanding, dedication and compassion for those who are impacted by the effects of illegal drugs in our State. Today we have added a valuable tool in this effort focused on the use of methamphetamines."