The public’s attention may be on the heroin and prescription opioid crisis, but an older threat is coming back to Morrison County and Minnesota in general, with some changes.
Sheriff Shawn Larsen briefed the County Board, June 20, on the resurgence of methamphetamine and how it gets to Morrison County.
“Meth is pretty prevalent again throughout Minnesota,” Larsen said. “The big talk has been opioids and heroin, but meth has really peaked.”
One of the changes from 2005-2006, when he was on the drug task force and dealing with meth in the county, is that Morrison County isn’t seeing producers this time around, Larsen said.
“Now we’re seeing high volumes of methamphetamine numbers crossing state lines into Minnesota,” Larsen said.
County Attorney Brian Middendorf said many of these cases involve people buying the drugs in the Twin Cities and coming through Morrison County on Highways 10 and 371 to take it north, presumably for sale.
Many of the cases his office prosecutes are for possession. However, Middendorf said, they can’t prove the suspects have the intent to sell it.
Larsen said a liquid form of meth being produced is hidden in a variety of ways. Investigators believe the drugs are coming from Mexican cartels.
“They’re actually taking liquid meth and they’re mixing it with diesel fuel and it’s in a big tank,” Larsen said.
If law enforcement tests the substance, it is almost impossible to get a good reading on whether or not it’s meth, Larsen said.
The meth is then taken to a pre-readied location to be extracted from the fuel or other liquids.
One issue facing prosecutors is proving the defendant knew he or she was in possession of drugs.
“Of course they’re always driving a vehicle that belongs to someone else, saying, ‘Hey I had no idea those drugs were in the hood or the trunk or the backpack. It’s not my car, I didn’t know that was there,’” Middendorf said.
Minnesota recognizes something called constructive possession, Middendorf said. This means even if the drugs are not on a person, but in their control, say in a vehicle they’re driving, they can be charged with possession. The prosecutor still has to prove a defendant knew the drugs were there and had control over them.
The amount of meth found in a load is also changing Larsen said, and it’s not getting smaller.
“It used to be a 5-pound load was a big deal. Now, we’re seeing 25-pound loads. We’re seeing up to 75-pound loads,” Larsen said, adding this wasn’t in Little Falls, but close.
Commissioner Mike LeMieur said the Legislature had passed a law that increased the thresholds of meth needed for a person to be charged with a higher degree of felony.
He asked if people were selling meth because they could sell more of it than heroin without risking longer jail time.
Larsen said law enforcement had not been in support of the law, which he said was meant to decrease prison time for people who were viewed as addicts rather than violent drug dealers.
It appears that a reason meth is coming back is because of it being readily available in bulk from cartels in Mexico, Larsen said.
“There’s really less control in Mexico than there is here,” Larsen said, talking about how ingredients for meth have been made to require a prescription here, but are available to cartels in bulk.
The increased thresholds could have something to do with it though, he said. What it has done though, is tax the department’s resources.
As the threshold for first degree possession has gone from 25 grams to 50 grams, investigators have had to spend more money and time on controlled buys and investigations.
The increase in drug cases is having an effect on the County Attorney’s office and the court system as more and more cases pile up, Middendorf said.
“The court system itself is pretty bogged down with a lot of cases,” Middendorf said.
While his office can have probable cause for a warrant based on preliminary tests, these are not admissible in court.
Rather, Middendorf said, the prosecution is having to wait for tests from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which sometimes takes too long.
“The turnaround time to get that accomplished has become really long; much longer than it ever used to be,” Middendorf said. “It’s a real challenge to get results back before trial. We’ve had cases where it’s coming up for trial in a week or two and we don’t even have the results back. We don’t know the weight of the drugs, we don’t even have a confirmation test on what type of drugs.”
An increase in controlled substance cases has an effect on other areas the office handles, namely child protection cases, Middendorf said.
“Those types of cases skyrocket because of parents’ drug use,” Middendorf said.
While the office tries to meet timelines to reunite parents with their kids, it is dependent on the person getting treatment, Middendorf said.
The treatment aspect of the problem is hard for people, but the children deserve a safe home, Middendorf said.
“If the parents can’t provide that, then we need to look elsewhere,” Middendorf said.
The problem of meth and other drugs is a manageable one, Middendorf said. It requires three aspects, prevention, law enforcement and treatment. The problem is all require funding, he said.
Larsen said his hope is that people realize methamphetamine is still an issue and asks that they keep an eye out for it.
Anyone who sees something suspicious can call the drug tip line anonymously at (320) 632-0377. If they think they see a drug sale, they should immediately call the Sheriff’s Department at (320) 632-9233.