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Lynch signs law setting new methamphetamine penalties

By NORMA LOVE
The Associated Press

Gov. John Lynch signed a bill into law yesterday establishing stiff penalties for making and using methamphetamine and for possessing common household chemicals used to make the highly addictive drug.

jun02 lynch 317px (AP)“We are seeing an increase in the production, sale and use of crystal methamphetamine here in New Hampshire,” said Lynch. “Left unchecked, the growth in crystal methamphetamine production and use presents a serious threat to the health and safety of our citizens.”

Over the past two years, police have raided 15 meth labs in the state, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young.

For $100 and a recipe off the Internet, an addict can “cook” enough meth out of cold medicine sold over-the-counter and lye, iodine and other common household products to supply his habit with a little left over to sell.

Under the new law, people convicted of making or attempting to make meth face up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000. Repeat offenders face even longer sentences. Offenders also face penalties if police or others responding to a lab site are hurt as a result.

The law also allows the court to order restitution to cover the cost of cleaning up the toxic chemicals used to make meth. The state will set standards to show when a property is clean — an important provision for landlords and owners who otherwise might have trouble renting or selling it.

“Because of the high costs associated with cleaning up a methamphetamine lab, it is crucial that the court be able to assess these costs to the offender,” Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said.

Cleanup costs to state and federal governments in the West have run as high as $150,000, with an average additional cost to a homeowner of about $6,500. New Hampshire spent about $15,000 cleaning up a lab in a home in Milan last year, not including damage to the house, said Young.

The law also makes it a crime to possess many commonly available ingredients used to make methamphetamine, such as ephedrine, iodine and anhydrous ammonia. Prosecutors would have to prove the person intended to make the drug.

A new federal law also is taking aim at methamphetamine production by imposing new restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. Customers are limited to buying 300 30-milligram pills in a month or 120 such pills in a day.

By Sept. 30, retailers will be required to sell such medicines from behind the counter and purchasers would have to show ID and sign log books.

New Hampshire and other states have focused their efforts on nipping the growth in homegrown labs due to the dangers posed by the chemical stew required to produce meth. The mix can explode and is highly toxic. Fumes can permeate apartment walls and meth producers often dump the leftover chemicals down drains or onto nearby soil, polluting the environment.

Last month, Lynch signed another bill that establishes penalties for knowingly exposing a child or incapacitated adult to meth. Those convicted face up to five years in prison on top of any other charges.

The law took effect with Lynch’s signature.

“We have seen nationally just how dangerous and destructive this drug is, leaving a trail of ruined lives, broken families and crime in its wake,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen. “These penalties are critical, but we must also focus on attacking the demand side of methamphetamine with prevention and treatment. There is no way to win the war of drugs by just looking at supply.”

Ayotte said the laws bring the state one step closer to stemming the production of methamphetamine and protecting its most vulnerable residents.