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METH : Media Coverage

Western states battle methamphetamine

San Jose Mercury News
letters@sjmercury.com
Sept 6, 1996

Congress targets 'speed'

WASHINGTON (AP) - With teenagers' drug use a key campaign issue, some lawmakers pushed Thursday for quick passage of legislation to crack down on methamphetamine, the fastest growing drug problem in much of the Far West and Southwest. Lawmakers of both parties agree that action is needed to fight the crudely made drug, but there is disagreement over how stiff the criminal penalties for selling it should be.

The Justice Department and many lawmakers believe the penalties should be the same as for "crack" cocaine: a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for five grams or more and a ten-year sentence for 50 grams or more. Methamphetamine can be even more dangerous than crack because its euphoric "high" lasts a lot longer -- often up to six hours, Harold Wankel, chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a hearing of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime.

Methamphetamine, known by the nicknames "meth", "crank" and "speed", has a potent effect on the central nervous system and often creates delusions, paranoia and aggressive behavior. There have been 2,439 deaths related to methamphetamine reported between 1991 and 1995, Wankel said, 73 percent of which, or 1,878, ocurred in Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. He called the drug "an abuse problem involving hundreds of thousands of Americans, with the concomitant mental and physical injury, loss of opportunity and disruption of families."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the House panel, "We simply must make it a top national priority to implement a serious, national initiative to crack down on illegal importation and manufacture of methamphetamines." "I think it ought to be treated like crack cocaine. This is one of the most abused drugs in our society and it's killing our kids." But some Democrats, including Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, don't want mandatory minimum sentences in the legislation. In a compromise with Kennedy, the Senate methamphetamine bill awaiting final action was changed to provide that federal sentencing guidelines be used instead.

But the House version, sponsored by Rep. Fred Heineman, R-N.C., a former police chief, contains the mandatory minimums. Hatch and Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla, the House subcommittee chairman, said they hoped legislation could be passed and sent to President Clinton before Congress adjourns in about a month. Methamphetamine is usually manufactured from pseudoephedrine, a drug used to treat asthma and stuffy noses, and other chemicals readily available in gasoline, rubbing alcohol, pool-cleaning supplies or drain cleaners. ---