by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Drug activity has been picking up in Morrison County, Sheriff Michel Wetzel told the County Board.
“Over the last year we’ve seen an increase,” he said at the Board meeting, Sept. 10. “For a long time, there has not been as much methamphetamine. First, prescription drugs took its place, then heroin. Now there has been a resurgence of methamphetamine and a whole lot of marijuana.”
Wetzel compared drug activity in the county to squeezing a balloon.
“As soon as we squeeze hard somewhere, something pops up somewhere else,” he said. “The drug presence in our county is as high as it’s been the last five or six years. Our guys are aggressive, making arrests every week, but it’s not having the effect it used to.”
Wetzel points to the recent directive made by United States Attorney General Eric Holder, that assistant U.S. attorneys in certain drug cases are not to list in the criminal complaints the weights of seized controlled substances.
“Mandatory minimum sentences are tripped once the weight reaches certain thresholds,” Wetzel explained. “This has had a substantial effect all the way down to our local high school, where kids think, as a result, ‘marijuana can’t be that bad.’”
“We are busy here,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf. “As of Sept. 10 of last year, we had filed 187 felony and gross misdemeanor cases. This year, we have already filed 263 cases, a 40 percent increase. A good portion of that increase is from felony drug cases.”
“It’s my belief that cases that used to result in a prison sentence now result in lesser consequences,” Wetzel said.
He understands that possession of drugs shouldn’t necessarily result in a mandatory minimum sentence for nonviolent offenders.
“But when someone is arrested with 10 grams (of methamphetamine), that is not personal use — it’s distribution. But being caught for distribution and having the charge proven is a different story from being caught for possession,” he said.
Wetzel believes that “Half measures don’t work. I’ve seen that removing drug offenders from society works; not necessarily to cure them long-term but to protect society from them, the thefts, burglaries and high homicide rates.
“I think we’re moving in the wrong direction,” he said. “Minimizing the crime sends a message, and we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the amount of dope on the streets. I hope these things will turn around a bit.”