The Des Moines Register, Saturday, March 28, 1998, Page 1M
$4 million plan targets meth
Democrats say the GOP drags its feet while
the drug spreads across Iowa.
By SHIRLEY SALEMY
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
With less than a month remaining in the legislative
session, an 11th-hour issue is percolating at the Statehouse: Iowa's devastating
Democrats this week proposed a $4 million plan to combat the growing
problem plaguing communities from Sioux City to Muscatine. They argued the
Republicans controlling the Legislature have done nothing meaningful to attack the
Now House Republicans hope to counter that measure by developing
legislation that takes a "comprehensive approach," said Rep. Jeffrey Lamberti,
R-Ankeny, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The rush of legislation was preceded by revelations that the vast
majority of methamphetamine in Iowa is not home-cooked, but funneled through a
sophisticated pipeline from Mexico and California.
Iowa's Drug of Choice
The drug - also known as crank, ice and speed
- first flourished with the motorcycle gangs of the 1960s and 1970s. These days, its
cheap, highly addictive, long-lasting fix is the choice of Iowa drug users, no matter
their income, age, gender or where they live.
The details of the House Republicans' proposal are still being worked
out, Lamberti said. But it likely will affect meth users, dealers and suppliers.
He also said the GOP would have to work within existing budget targets.
Under consideration are mandatory minimum sentences for meth dealers
and an outlaw of appeal bonds for convicted dealers, he said.
The proposal by Democrats includes money to create a 15-member
"meth strike force" to further investigate clandestine meth labs and drug
manufacturers. It also would establish grants so local law enforcement authorities
could increase training, staff and equipment.
Chances Aren't Good
In addition, the plan would boost funding for
meth addiction treatment and target teen-agers to keep them from using the drug.
The prognosis for the Democrats' proposal has not been good.
Sen. Dennis Black, D-Grinnell, said he unsuccessfully offered it as an
amendment to the health and human-rights budget.
"It's high time that Iowa government leaders develop some courage
and declare an all-out war on methamphetamine," Black said.
But in response to the Democrats' plan, Lamberti said: "Dumping
more money is not going to solve the problem. It's not a money problem. It's
Gov. Terry Branstad acknowledged recently more can be done to fight
meth, but he stands by his record.
"You never do enough, dealing with something this dangerous and
serious," Branstad said. "But I would stack up what we've done in Iowa
against any state in the country. We've been very aggressive in education, public
information and tougher penalties."
Branstad cited the drug-testing bill passed this session as the most
significant this year to fight meth. Users have said that if drug testing had been
done at their workplace, they wouldn't have gotten tangled with the drug, he said.
But on March 19, Branstad sent a letter to
Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inviting him to a town
meeting in Des Moines this fall to explore other steps.
Charles Larson, the state's drug czar, said one important step could be
locking up meth dealers and manufacturers after their conviction. If they are
allowed out on appeal bonds, many keep cooking the drug and teaching others to do the
same, he said.
"That would send an immediate signal to the drug community: You're
out of business," Larson said.
He said mandatory minimum sentences also are necessaty to break
people's addictions and the groups that make and deal the drug.
He hopes the random drug-testing legislation recently signed by the
governor also will stymie the meth problem.
More investigators also might help.
Iowa is part of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which
rneans federal money is funneled to the state to fight meth manufacturing, importation and
According to Larson's office, drug task forces operate throughout the
state, covering 74 counties and 80 percent of the population. The Iowa Department of
Public Safety's Clandestine Lab Response Team works to bust local manufacturers and clean
up hazardous materials that are left behind.
But House Speaker Ron Corbett, R-Cedar Rapids, said news of the
sophisticated meth pipeline means the state might need to focus on adding drug-enforcement
Corbett also is interested in stiffer
penalties for users unless they tell who sold them the drug.
"That way we can start moving up the ladder to the drug kingpin or
the main people involved in the organization," he said.
During the summer, he wants to study the state's substance-abuse
treatment system and how it is faring under the added pressure of meth addicts.
Democrats, meanwhile, plan to keep pressing the issue and hope to win
approval of their proposal.
"We're going to keep the pressure on," said House Minority
Leader David Schrader, D-Monroe.
On Monday, away from the Statehouse spotlight, U.S. attorneys in Iowa
and other officials will inaugurate a public-information campaign called "Life or
The campaign, developed by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area,
includes an educational video, crank hot line and television spots. One TV
announcement shows what appears to be a kid dancing to music, said Stephen Rapp, U.S.
attorney for the Northern District of Iowa. In reality, the teen-ager is convulsing
on the floor next to a toilet.
"We're trying to get out there and make this drug
unacceptable," Rapp said.
Reporter Shirley Salemy can be
reached at email@example.com
or (515) 284-8131.
Iowa lawmakers this year and last have introduced
bills related to the growing problem of methamphetamine use. Here are some of the
measures that became law, and others that are proposals:
- Someone 18 or older who manufactures methamphetamine in the presence of a
minor shall be sentenced up to an additional five years in confinement. Enacted.
- Judges are permitted to impose a longer jail term for someone who
manufactures crank in hotel rooms. Enacted.
- Random and unannounced tests of workers for use of alcohol or other
- State officials would report to the Legislature and the governor the
extent of methamphetamine use in the state, options for early intervention and the
availability of treatment for substance abuse and mental illness by Dec. 15, 1998.
- Someone 18 or older who unlawfully manufactures and delivers meth to
someone younger than 18 would be guilty of a class A felony and sentenced to life in
- Drivers would be considered operating a vehicle while intoxicated if they
have any amount of a controlled substance or other drug not prescribed present in their
The Des Moines Register
Saturday, March 28, 1998, Page 1M