States Expand Registration Laws to Include Drug Offenses
In 2003, Montana began including persons convicted of manufacturing illegal drugs on its sex offender and violent offender Internet registry. Since then, Tennessee, Minnesota, Kansas and Illinois have created online registries for people convicted of making or selling methamphetamine. The information on such registries usually includes name, date of birth, conviction offense, date of conviction and location of offense. Thus far, unlike sex offender registries, and with the exception of Kansas, they do not include current addresses and photos.
Similar drug offense registries have been proposed in Georgia, Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, West Virginia and on the federal level.
Tennessee enacted a meth offender registration database in 2005, in response to complaints from landlords over toxic chemical contamination in buildings used for illegal methamphetamine labs. Within its first 18 months of operation, Tennessee added over 400 meth offenders to its registry.
Brian McClung, spokesperson for Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, said that Pawlenty used executive powers to create Minnesota’s registry so that residents could check for methamphetamine offenders in their neighborhoods and landlords could screen current or potential tenants. “We want to arm citizens with information, so they can protect themselves and their communities,” said McClung.
In an August 30, 2008 article, Tennessee state Senator Randy McNally, who co-sponsored Tennessee’s meth user registration statute, dismissed concerns about the people placed on the registry, saying, “If they didn’t want to make the registry, they shouldn’t have sold methamphetamine.”
Not everyone agrees with this hard-line approach. “The problem with these registries is that we’re creating a class of untouchables within our society who cannot rent apartments or secure employment,” said George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. “When you diminish the likelihood that ex-felons can live and work in society, you increase the chances that they will return to criminal behavior.”
ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project Director Graham Boyd questioned the legality of requiring years of registration after an offender’s sentence has been completed, saying it amounted to extra punishment which is “not allowed under the Constitution.” However, the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that sex offender registration laws are not punitive and thus are constitutional, making it doubtful that drug offender registration laws could be successfully challenged in court.
Boyd also cited another reason to criticize the use of drug offender registries: “One group for whom this registry is going to be an incredibly good resource is people looking to buy methamphetamine,” he observed. Bill Piper, director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, questioned whether creating and maintaining drug offender registries was a wise use of tax dollars. “We need to invest scarce public resources into educating the public about the use of meth and providing high quality treatment options to fight addiction, not create an intrusive public registry,” he said.
Regardless, registration laws are apparently here to stay and will likely expand to eventually include any crime that can even remotely be envisioned as a threat to public safety or property. This is exactly what was predicted by prisoner advocates when sex offender registration laws were initially enacted. Even worse, in the case of Kansas’ registry, the failure of drug offenders to register or follow the registry rules is a felony offense; thus, the criminalization of registry violations can result in sanctions that are more severe than those for the underlying drug offense.
Sources: USA Today, timesnews.net, theleafchronicle.com, MSNBC
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