APRIL 27, 2004  


NASHVILLE Governor Phil Bredesen today proposed stiffening criminal penalties for methamphetamine possession to bring them more in line with penalties for cocaine and crack possession.

Bredesen made the proposal during the first meeting of the Governors Task Force on Methamphetamine Abuse, a 20-member panel charged with developing a comprehensive strategy for attacking the proliferation of meth in Tennessee. The Governor said he plans to confer with the leadership of the General Assembly over the next few days in an effort to pass a bill before the end of the legislative current session.

The Task Force is scheduled to make its recommendations to the Governor by September 1. However, Bredesen after consulting with the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference said he wanted to move on at least one substantive proposal right away.

The fact is, were dealing with a clear and present danger to our states health and well being, Bredesen said. This is a sensible step that can be taken immediately.

Under current state law, methamphetamine possession doesnt rise to the same level of punishment as possession of cocaine and crack. For example, offenders caught with a half-gram of meth with the intent to sell or distribute are subject to a Class C felony, which carries a possible punishment of three years to 15 years in jail.

Moving forward, Bredesen is proposing to bring that offense in line with cocaine and crack possession by elevating it to a Class B felony, which would carry a possible penalty of eight to 30 years in jail. The proposal would mean stiffer criminal penalties for an estimated 160 offenders each year.

I dont view increased punishment as the sole solution to this problem, Bredesen said. There are a whole range of strategies we need to look at, including more resources for law enforcement and better approaches to prevention and treatment. But bringing meth in line with cocaine and crack is definitely a logical place to start.

Methamphetamine, a powerfully addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system, is produced in clandestine laboratories across Tennessee with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. The drug has been on the rise in recent years. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that Tennessee now accounts for 75% of meth lab seizures in the Southeast.