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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Bill would strengthen meth penalties

Friday, January 10, 2014

Local officials, with help from Del. Charles Poindexter, hope to convince the Virginia General Assembly to impose a stiffer minimum sentence on people convicted of methamphetamine offenses.

House Bill 676, sponsored by Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, would levy a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for manufacturing, distributing, selling or giving — or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, sell or give — 28 or more grams of a methamphetamine substance.

Offenses involving 28 to 226 grams of a methamphetamine substance now are subject to a three-year mandatory minimum sentence. For ones involving 227 or more grams, the minimum is five years, a summary of the bill shows.

Regardless of how many grams are involved, as long as it is at least 28, the minimum sentence would be 10 years if the bill becomes law.

Ten years is “a good starting point,” said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, adding “I’d like to see tougher sentences imposed for all drugs.”

“Meth,” as it commonly is called, is a powerful drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity that can damage the central nervous system if it is used improperly. It is produced and distributed illegally because it can boost people’s moods and increase sexual stimulation, despite potential major side effects such as addiction, delusions, muscle breakdowns and rapid tooth decay, online sources of drug information show.

Poindexter introduced the bill at the request of the Henry County Board of Supervisors and the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, according to Alex Thorup, his legislative assistant.

Increasing penalties for meth offenses was among the county’s priorities for the 2014 General Assembly session that began Wednesday because the illegal meth problem is growing and “a strain on resources,” Thorup said.

Tougher sentences for people who both manufacture and use meth “would give them more time” to undergo rehabilitation to get off the drug, said Maj. Steve Eanes of the sheriff’s office, as well as get meth “off the streets” and reduce the overall problem with illegal drugs.

“Drugs are a terrible problem, period, but meth is one of the worst drugs as far as what it does to the mind” and how people behave when they are on it, Perry said.

Because of the toxic fumes produced when meth is manufactured, cleanup of so-called “meth labs” is time-consuming and involves the use of crews trained in handling hazardous materials, which is costly, officials said.

Eanes estimated the sheriff’s office had to clean up 18 to 20 meth labs in the past year. Cleanup crews usually are on the scene for up to eight hours, and cleanup generally costs $2,500 to $3,000 per lab, not counting things such as wear and tear on equipment, he said.

The county is “strapped for funds” to spend on pre-eminent needs such as schools and public safety in general, said supervisors Chairman H.G. Vaughn.

Therefore, having to take funds away from those needs to spend them on cleaning up meth labs is “a problem,” said Vaughn, the Ridgeway District supervisor.

Although meth can have bad effects on people using it, in terms of the effects of lab cleanups on county coffers, Perry said, “the primary person suffering is the taxpayer.”

Martinsville Interim Police Chief Eddie Cassady also expressed support for Poindexter’s bill.

“We’re starting to see more of it (meth) ... on our streets,” Cassady said of police.

“It’s starting to grow in popularity” among recreational drug users, he said, although it is does not yet seem to be the “drug of the moment.”

Eanes said county officials appreciate Poindexter’s bill and hope other lawmakers will support it.


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