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.


    With less than a month remaining in the legislative session, an 11th-hour issue is percolating at the Statehouse: Iowa's devastating methamphetamine addiction.
    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 problem.
    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 punishment."
    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.

Drug-Abuse Summit
   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 use.
    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 officers.

Harsher Penalties
   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 Meth."
    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
or (515) 284-8131.

Related bills

    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:

The Des Moines Register
Saturday, March 28, 1998, Page 1M