There is no partisanship on the subject of controlling the sale and use of illegal drugs.
That was the observation of state Rep. Eric Watson upon returning from a discussion of state and federal drugs laws in Washington, D.C.
Watson was in the nation’s capital as a representative to the National Conference of State Legislators’ fall forum.
He sat as part a forum concerning drug policy and drug control issues.
Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticetti and Deb Beck of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws also participated in the program.
“We discussed the laws from across the nation and what is working,” Watson said.
He said the movement to legalize marijuana brought a strong reaction from a South Dakota legislator.
“Members of the administration said full legalization would not happen under the Obama administration,” Watson said. “There was a senator from South Dakota who started yelling and disrupting the meeting.”
He acknowledged “the door has been opened” on the issue but does not believe it will happen in Tennessee anytime soon.
“Even on the subject of medical marijuana, science shows there are other medications that can be just as effective,” Watson said.
He said criminal sentencing was also discussed, and there were discussions about being harsher on drug offenders.
Watson addressed the issue in light of the recent commutations of crack cocaine offenders.
“They just go back on the streets and do more crime,” Watson said. “There needs to be a different type of program where they are in effect sentenced to long periods of rehabilitation. No one gets over these types of addictions in 30, 60 or 90 days.”
Watson noted the recent opinion from the state attorney general concerning local municipalities not being able to pass local ordinances to require prescriptions for cold, flu and allergy medications that contain pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used in the making of methamphetamine.
The representative has not been alone in charging requiring prescriptions for those medications “punishes innocent consumers.”
“It’s going to be challenged, and all of these cases will be thrown out of court,” Watson said. “The communities doing this, despite their best intentions, will end up being sued.”
Watson said “prescription only” does not work.
“Even in states like Oregon that has it, meth has gone up,” he said.
Watson pointed to Tennessee’s use of the National Precursor Log, which is required to be used by all pharmacists.
The system tracks the purchase of all the suspect medications and can signal a warning when individuals are buying a suspect amount.
Watson said the best thing about that process is it is paid for by the pharmaceutical companies and does not cost the state.
He said there are concerns about the ability to order drugs from overseas that were raised at the forum.
“We pushed the DEA hard about trying to do something about the drugs that are ordered from overseas,” Watson said. “Anyone can get anything, but the problem is how do you fund the necessary people it would take to inspect every package. But, there must be some way the federal enforcement agencies could track these illegal foreign markets, and we encouraged them to do just that.”
Overall, the legislators from around the country felt the laws should be enforced.
“We make too many deals,” Watson said. “We could pass all kind of great laws — first time meth users get five to seven years and a $100,000 fine — but no one ever gets that. Over 95 percent of those cases are pled out. Then, people come to the legislators and want better laws. It doesn’t matter what laws legislators pass, if they aren’t prosecuted and pushed, they’re not worth it.”
He said his observations and discussions with his colleagues from around the country show there is a serious united front to curb illegal drugs.
“I think it’s true here in Tennessee and all over the country. It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue,” Watson said. “There is a total agreement that I see to try to control this problem.”