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Proposed law would require jail time for meth

Becky Campbell • Jan 21, 2014 at 9:40 PM

A new law proposed by a local state legislator would establish mandatory minimum sentencing for anyone convicted of possessing any amount of methamphetamine.

Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, filed the bill last week and said he wrote it to target meth offenders, not law-abiding citizens who need allergy medication.

“All of the other legislation I’ve seen up to this point deals with only one side of the equation. The equation we’re talking about is limiting law-abiding citizens. What this does is places requirements on minimum mandatory jail time for meth offenders,” Hill said in a phone interview from his Nashville office Tuesday evening.

“I believe wholeheartedly it’s time to end the war on law-abiding allergy sufferers and start the war on meth. We can pass tons of legislative restrictions on people that aren’t the problem and still have meth issues,” he said.

Currently, state law calculates the punishment for manufacturing, delivering or selling methamphetamine by the amount in a person’s possession.

If the person manufactures, possesses or delivers 0.5 grams or more, it’s a class B felony punishable by 8-30 years in prison, and if the number is less than 0.5 grams, it’s a class C offense punishable by 3 to 15 years. A fine of up to $100,000 can also be imposed.

Hill’s bill would implement a minimum 180-day jail term to be served at 100 percent.

A second part of Hill’s proposed bill would make simple possession of “any amount of methamphetamine” a class D felony that carries 2-12 years in prison. There would be a minimum 30-day jail term served at 100 percent.

Currently, those sentences, as with all but a few state crimes, are served at 30, 35, 45 or 60 percent, depending on the person’s criminal conviction history.

On 100 percent sentences in Tennessee, the Department of Correction can award up to 15 percent good-time credit off the sentence.

Gov. Bill Haslam proposed his own meth-related bill in the General Assembly last week. It significantly limits the amount of cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine or ephedrine — the main ingredient in meth — that a person can purchase.

Under Haslam’s bill, the current limit, which allows customers to purchase one box of cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine per month — would remain in place. That works out to 2.4 grams in 30 days. To make the purchase, the customer must present a valid ID to the pharmacist.

Haslam’s proposal goes further to allow a pharmacist, at his or her discretion, to override the system that tracks and limits purchases to allow a person to buy up to 4.8 grams in that same 30-day period.

Anything above that would require a prescription from a doctor, certified physician’s assistant or authorized nurse.

Local law enforcement and legislators have praised Haslam’s proposal and said it will help cut down on the amount of pseudoephedrine that gets into the hands of meth cooks.

Limiting purchases “is worth having the conversation about, but I don’t support prescription requirements,” Hill said.

“When you hear stories about meth offenders … if they go to jail, they go to jail a couple of days or a couple of hours or they don’t go to jail at all. That’s a problem. That’s the intent of my legislation … to provide a quality deterrent.”

At this point, the cost of Hill’s legislation isn’t calculated, but he hopes to have that information as well as some other details by Friday when he holds a news conference in the Tri-Cities. Details about the conference are not finalized, but will be announced later this week.

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