OMAHA, Neb. – A new bill in Nebraska that takes effect in September will make it harder for methamphetamine manufacturers to get ingredients to make the drug, while imposing longer prison sentences on those involved in meth-related crimes. But some officials believe that State Bill LB117 could also create a crisis for the prison system that is already flush with inmates. Nebraska’s current prison population is at 134 percent of its capacity. If it reaches 140 percent the governor can declare an emergency and release inmates on early parole.
It is still unknown how much an effect the bill will have on the inmate population. Some officials believe population growth will be less dramatic because the bill focuses on harsher punishments for dealers and manufacturers, while nonviolent users are funneled into a program that focuses on treatment instead of incarceration.
The new bill requires a person convicted of possession of 10 grams of meth with intent to sell to serve a mandatory minimum sentence of three years, a year longer than the current average meth-related sentence in Nebraska. Before the bill was passed, that same charge did not carry a mandatory sentence. Those convicted of possession of eight to 99 grams with intent to sell face a minimum of five years in prison.
The bill also includes a provision that requires most types of medicine that contain pseudoephedrine – a main ingredient in meth – to be sold to customers who are at least 18 years old from behind the counter of pharmacies.
After a spike in 2002, when 361 meth labs were seized, the number of labs found by law enforcement in Nebraska continued to drop. In 2003, agencies found 245 labs; 225 were found in 2004; and just over 100 have been found so far this year.