Before Oregon's legislators wrapped up their second longest session in the state's history last month, they were able to put together a $5.5 million meth package that includes severe criminal sanctions, money for treatment of meth abusers and makes pseudoephedrine a prescription drug.
But, in the opinion of State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, it provided not nearly enough funding for the law enforcement community.
In fact, Johnson considers $5.5 million "parsimonious," given the magnitude of the meth problem.
"You see it (the meth problem) translated with its magnifier effect throughout state government," Johnson said. "Children removed from meth houses go into the foster care system or into the juvenile adjudication system if parental rights are terminated. You see drug-affected kids coming up through the schools. Meth cooking can render an entire hotel a toxic site. And the bottom line is, it is permeating all aspects of our life. Identity theft driven by the need for meth, brazen crimes committed by meth users. And I'm talking about home invasion burglaries. Guys coming in 'camo' gear and mowing down guests in a home. We start with the premise we have a problem," Johnson said.
The question, of course, is what to do about it.
The answer for the legislators was to come up with a large number of bills, Johnson said, which ran the gamut from "'Lock 'em up and throw away the key for a first offense, rot in jail forever,' all the way through 'We have to get money for treatment.'"
When legislators finally agreed on a bipartisan bill, Johnson said she voted for it despite some reservations, because she knows it will be a weapon in the state's fight against what she describes as a meth epidemic.
"I wish we'd invested more money, and the part where I wish we'd invested more money is in district attorneys, the judicial branch and treatment," Johnson said.
"We've got to have adequate courtrooms and adequate prosecutorial staff and adequate defense. I think we've done okay funding indigent defense. Where we've fallen down on the job is failing to recognize that we need judges and DAs to be the third leg on the stool, and I was so pleased to be able to help get another judge for Clatsop County. And we got a modest increase in DA pay ... We've got to have adequate courthouse folks to put away the bad guys."
Johnson is also concerned about the Clatsop County Jail, which she said is antiquated and crowded and poses safety problems for county employees as well as for inmates.
She said another deficiency in the meth legislation package is its failure to restore state trooper positions that were cut, especially since Oregon State Police are the ones patrolling Interstate 5, a conduit for the movement of meth. Johnson said troopers often stop cars loaded with contraband during routine patrols.
"I'd like to see us have sufficient cops on the road in rural districts like Clatsop County ... so for officers' safety they have reasonable backup within a reasonable amount of time, and that they have adequate saturation of officers to put the bad guys on notice that we're serious about this," Johnson said.
Johnson also would like more money for aggressive intervention treatment for people caught in the "vise-like grip" of meth addiction. Otherwise, she said, addicts will go right back out on the street to use meth as soon as they are released from prison.
As for the part of the law that makes it necessary to have a doctor's prescription to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine, which is the main ingredient used in manufacturing meth, Johnson said, "I think that aspect of the bill flunks the common sense test and it will end up being punitive for law-abiding Oregonians."
She said she doesn't want to see the Astoria Bridge and the Lewis and Clark Bridge at Longview, Wash., turned into a "Sudafed super highway that would drive law-abiding Oregonians in Washington" to stock up on cold remedies.
Johnson said she would encourage Oregon's congressional delegation to bring back some federal money to give local law enforcement a boost. She added that in her opinion, the federal government should quit spending time and energy coming after Oregon's medical marijuana law and start providing funds for the tools the state needs to fight the meth problem. She said those tools include additional police, inter-operability of radio and telecommunications equipment and additional jail space.