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Stopping meth becomes priority for legislators

ST. PAUL -- Stopping the spread of meth across Minnesota is rising to a top priority among legislators. In recent years, meth has become the biggest crime problem in many rural counties. "When I started, 80 percent of the (drug) crimes were marij...

ST. PAUL -- Stopping the spread of meth across Minnesota is rising to a top priority among legislators.

In recent years, meth has become the biggest crime problem in many rural counties.

"When I started, 80 percent of the (drug) crimes were marijuana," Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma said. "We're not even seeing marijuana. It is just meth, meth, meth."

Brolsma, a former Concordia College student, was talking to Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, about the problem during a Capitol meth awareness day Wednesday.

Dozens of legislators studied displays explaining that meth is cooked with common ingredients, such as cold tablets, anhydrous ammonia, lye, alcohol and drain cleaner. They also learned, as Lanning said, those who use meth engage in "very serious self-destructive behavior."

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The House sponsor of a bill that slaps harsher penalties on meth making said fighting the drug is rising to the top of many priority lists.

The bill by Rep. Doug Fuller, R-Bemidji, increases a first-time meth making penalty from three to 10 years and boosts sentences for repeat offenders from four to 15 years. It also increases fines.

Fuller's bill requires stores to put cold tablets behind the counter or lock them up.

Two legislator-grocers said that already happens in many stores. Republican Reps. Bob Gunther of Fairmont and Dean Simpson of New York Mills said the state grocers and retailers associations are behind the proposal.

Simpson said employees at his stores in New York Mills and Perham alert law enforcement officers if a customer buys more cold tablets than he needs.

Another provision important to Simpson would require buyers to be notified when purchasing a car or house that has been contaminated by meth manufacturing.

Goodhue County Sheriff Dean Albers said it is hard to regulate meth ingredients because they frequently change.

Meth spread into Minnesota from California in the past four or five years: "It is like a creeping crud that is coming across the country," Albers said.

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One problem with meth is that the public knows little about it.

"There are way too many people who do not understand how serious this problem is," Lanning said.

Legislators said they are optimistic they will pass something to help the situation. With money short this year, they are not sure they will be able to do everything they want.

For instance, Fuller wants $300,000 to establish and train regional teams to tear down the dangerous meth laboratories.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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