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2 bills crack down on the sale of meth precursor ingredients

What reason could there be for having several pounds of iodine crystals, bags full of matchbooks and hundreds of tablets of cold medicine?

No legitimate reason, according to law enforcement officials who persuaded a legislative committee Wednesday morning to restrict the sale of the ingredients used to make methamphetamine."This is by far the greatest public safety threat in this state," said West Valley Police Lt. Charles Illsley.

In response to that threat, Rep. A. Lamont Tyler, R-Salt Lake, is sponsoring HB130, which restricts the sale of precursor ingredients used to make methamphetamine, and HB131, which gives law enforcement the money ($400,000) and the authority to enforce the applicable laws.

Also known as speed, crank, ice and crystal, methamphetamine has become one of the fastest growing drug problems in the country. Utah ranked third last year in production of the drug, which speeds up the central nervous system and can be snorted, injected or smoked.

"That's a distinction we're not proud of," said Lt. Col. Earl Morris of the Department of Public Safety. "It's not a (county) problem. It's a statewide problem."

It's apparently also a problem lawmakers have tried to deal with before. In 1992, legislators passed a bill restricting the sale of precursor ingredients, like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which is found in most decongestants and iodine crystals.

"(The Legislature) did not give this the adequate funding," Illsley said.

In 1997, Utah police officers, mostly from the Department of Public Safety, dismantled more than 120 methamphetamine labs. Just a year earlier in 1996, they cleaned up only 66 labs.

The labs are extremely hazardous and volatile. Morris said police are exposing themselves to risks so great, "we have to have base line physicals for 20 years after we've entered our last lab."

Illsley said in addition to the volatility of methamphetamine labs, which are sometimes as crude as two 32-ounce drink cups linked together, 40 percent of the labs are "booby trapped" so they'll explode if dismantled.

HB130 adds crystal iodine to the list of controlled substance precursors, limits the sale of crystal iodine to two ounces at a time, and requires picture identification, signature and a thumb print when it is purchased. It also restricts the amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to 12 grams. Those using these items in larger quantities for legitimate business purposes will be given an exception under the bill.