State OKs stricter law

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A new law approved by the Alabama Legislature  is aimed at halting the practice of “smurfing,” in which suspects buy small amounts of the medicines needed to make meth at various stores, and will go a long way in helping law enforcement make arrests Scott Walden, an agent with the 21st Judicial Drug Task Force said.

“It will definitely help us,” Walden said. “(Smurfing) is definitely a problem here. We’ll get four or five people running around to different stores buying the Sudafed and Liquid Fire. They’ll go out and purchase the stuff and meet in one location for a cook, and if you’ve got four or five people buying it, you can get a lot more than the legal amount.”

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange praised the state’s new anti-methamphetamine law Monday during a press conference, in which he also unveiled the first “Anti-Smurfing Campaign” in the nation.

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The new law, which was passed during the last session of the Alabama Legislature, enacted measures that significantly strengthen the state’s meth laws, giving law enforcement enhanced tools and making penalties tougher.

Walden said the provisions of the beefed up law, coupled with the new campaign, will help his agents tremendously when it comes to prosecuting the crimes (smurfing in now a felony).

“Passing anything where you can prosecute for smurfing definitely helps,” Walden said. “The you can prosecute four and five people involved with smurfing, on top of whatever the other charges are.”

Walden also pointed to a clause in the law that allows for the recouping of expenses used for the cleanup of meth labs as a big step forward.

“You’re talking about anything from $1000, if it’s a small cook, up to $100,000 in cleanup if it’s a bigger operation,” Walden said.

According to a press release from Strange’s office, Alabama is the first state to participate in the Anti-Smurfing Campaign, which is an education program to be carried out on a voluntary basis by pharmacies and retailers throughout the state. Smurfing, the act of purchasing small amounts of pseudoephedrine from several different locations to circumvent the prior law to acquire large quantities for the manufacture of meth, has risen in recent years, according to state law enforcement officials.

Monday, Strange said the new buying trend will be closely monitored.

“The Anti-Smurfing Campaign’s mission is to make clear that purchasing pseudoephedrine for a meth cook is a crime that could lead to jail time and have severe consequences,” the release reads. “Buying a cold or allergy product for a stranger is not an innocent or harmless act, but one that could have disastrous effects for the community and tragic effects for children who are endangered by being in the environment of meth labs and drug addicts.”

Strange said meth is a dangerous drug that must be fought in Alabama communities, a task he says will be easier for local law enforcement agents because of the new law.

“Methamphetamine is a terrible drug that causes great damage to our society, but I am encouraged that we are continuing to make significant progress against it,” Strange said. “Our strong new law is the result of the cooperative efforts of our dedicated law enforcement community, including district attorneys, drug task force leaders, sheriffs, police chiefs, as well as concerned business leaders and others.”
Strange thanked former Rep. Blaine Galliher and Sen. Bill Holtzclaw for their roles in passing the new state law.  Strange also said he is dedicated to using the new legislation to help curve the meth production in Alabama.

“Public education is vital to make our fight against meth more effective, and I commend the CHPA for launching its Anti-Smurfing Campaign in Alabama,” Strange commented. “Our message is that if you help get medicine for the manufacture of meth, you too are committing a felony crime for which you will face serious consequences.”

Galliher said the new law is big step in helping law enforcement fight the growing problems with meth.

“No one in Alabama has done more to fight the meth epidemic than Alabama law enforcement officials,” Galliher said. “We are proud our legislative leaders and Gov. Bentley supported our legislature, creating new safeguards to crackdown on smurfing and other aspects of meth production.  I am very pleased that we have balanced the needs to law enforcement without dramatically infringing on the rights of our law-abiding citizens.”

Among the new changes to the state’s meth laws are:

• Pseudoephedrine must be kept behind the counter and may only be sold by a licensed pharmacist. It now is a crime for a general retail entity to sell these products.

• More stringent identification requirements are imposed to purchase pseudoephedrine. Only a valid non-suspended drivers’ license, non-drivers’ government ID, military ID or passport may be accepted.

• Smurfing– illegally purchasing, attempting or conspiring to purchase, possess, sell, transfer or solicit, or otherwise furnish pseudo ephedrine and associated substances for the purpose of manufacturing a controlled substance, regardless if the amount is lawful—now is a felony crime.

• A drug offender database will be created, by which any person convicted of certain drug offenses would be blocked from purchasing pseudoephedrine for a designated amount of time, ranging from seven to 10 years.

• The new law’s provisions will be integrated into the current computerized system of real-time tracking sales, further enabling law enforcement and pharmacies to combat illegal sales of pseudoephedrine.

• The new law allows local law enforcement and prosecutors, as well as innocent land owners, to recoup the tremendous cost of investigating, prosecuting and cleaning up after the dangerous and often environmentally hazardous clandestine laboratories.

• For the first time ever, the possession of the paraphernalia used in the manufacturing process of methamphetamine and other controlled substances is a class C felony and where a firearm is present, it is enhanced to a class B felony.