North Carolina Department of Justice
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New Meth law already having an impact, says AG Cooper

Release date: 12/9/2004

Under new law, meth makers busted at 7 labs since December 1 could face prison time

Raleigh: Law enforcement is moving in to shut down more methamphetamine labs now that a tough new law is in place to put meth manufacturers behind bars, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.

“Under the old law, criminals arrested for making meth were back out on the street before law enforcement could even get the paperwork finished,” said Cooper. “North Carolina needed stronger sentences to help law enforcers and prosecutors fight this drug, and the new law is already paying off.”

State Bureau of Investigation agents have worked with local law enforcement to shut down seven secret meth labs since a new law against manufacture of the drug took effect December 1, a rate of almost one lab bust per day. To date, twelve people have been arrested under the new law at meth lab raids in Haywood, Buncombe, McDowell and Johnston counties.

Under the new law, which Cooper championed so that criminals who make meth will serve active prison time, penalties for manufacturing the drug increased from a Class H felony to a Class C felony. Penalties for possessing precursor ingredients needed to “cook” the drug have also increased from a Class H felony to a Class F felony to discourage the spread of meth labs. In 1999, the first year that meth labs were reported in North Carolina, SBI agents discovered 9 labs. That number has skyrocketed, with agents shutting down 177 labs in 2003 and 300 labs so far in 2004.

The new law also enhances the criminal penalty when a child is present in a meth lab or endangered by meth. Two children found living in a Johnston County home where a large amount of meth was seized on December 7 have been placed in the care of local Social Services. On December 3, two children were taken into protective custody following a fire at a suspected meth lab in Watauga County. In 2003, children were found living in one-fourth of homes where meth labs were located. This year, 115 children have been discovered in meth labs. Children in these homes are threatened by toxic chemicals, fire and explosions, and are often neglected or abused.

In addition, the new law adds meth to the list of drugs that can trigger a charge of second-degree murder when the drug causes an overdose death, and increases a convicted meth maker’s sentence by 24 months if a law enforcement officer or other first responder is injured in a lab bust. Across the state, 27 first responders were injured in lab busts in 2003. A total of 12 first responders have been injured in meth lab busts this year through November 2004.

Along with tougher laws, Cooper worked with lawmakers to create 14 new SBI positions to shut down meth labs across the state. In the upcoming legislative session, Cooper will work to win more SBI agents to continue the fight against meth. Cooper also sought and recently won federal funding to start a meth watch program that will train retail merchants to spot suspicious purchases of key ingredients such as pseudoephedrine that are needed to make meth.

“Meth brings violence and danger into our neighborhoods, puts children at risk and pollutes our ground and water,” said Cooper. “With this new law on the books, the punishment for these criminals comes a lot closer to fitting the crime.”