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Meth control bill hits snag on state vs. local rules
By LEON ALLIGOOD Staff Writer
A proposed bill in the state legislature that would clamp down on access to the primary ingredient of the drug methamphetamine has run aground because of a disagreement between Sen. Charlotte Burks and a trade group for chain-owned drugstores.
The legislation would limit purchases of non-prescription drugs containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as active ingredients. These are found in thousands of over-the-counter cold remedies, such as Sudafed, and are legitimate pharmaceuticals sold by the millions each year.
In large quantities, they can be used as ingredients in methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that can be manufactured on a kitchen stove. ''Meth,'' as it is called, is a huge problem in Burks' district.
Under the proposed law, it would be illegal to purchase more than three packages of any such medication or any package containing more than 9 grams of ephedrine during a single visit to a store.
While Burks, D-Monterey, and the Tennessee Council of Retail Merchants agree on that aspect, they differ on another provision: that state law would pre-empt all local ordinances or regulations governing the sale of the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine-based drugs.
The retail merchants want this language. Burks does not.
''They are fighting me tooth and toenail on this. They are trying to kill the local ordinances, is what they are trying to do, and I just can't accept that,'' the Monterey senator said.
Russell Palk, president of the council, argued it would be an unfair burden on the state's retailers to deal with different standards in each of the 95 counties and their municipalities. ''Ninety-five different counties could pass 95 different ordinances and require anything from a customer who wants to buy a pack of Sudafed to sign a log and show their ID, or we might have to put it behind our counters, where we do not have enough space currently for prescription drugs we distribute, much less the non-prescription drugs,'' Palk said.
''While we admit it is a significant problem, we would like to treat this in a state law, so that a Kroger, or a CVS or a Walgreen wouldn't have to treat it differently in all 95 counties.''
He noted there are more than 4,000 over-the-counter drug products that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. They are sold in large chain stores, as well as in vending machines.
But for Burks, it's not prudent to take away local efforts to restrict the problem. ''This meth epidemic has hurt us, with hundreds of kids being taken away from their parents because the mamas and daddies are on meth. Our law enforcement are working hard, but can't do it alone. We have got to stop meth, and making it hard to get the raw ingredient is one way of doing that,'' Burks said.