Youths freed in drug stop

Police say 3 bought pills in Md. to sell to methamphetamine cooks in Indiana


Anne Arundel County police announced yesterday that they had taken a stockpile of cold and allergy medications from three young people who were planning to resell them at a profit to methamphetamine cooks in their home state of Indiana, but authorities said a loophole in state law prevented them from charging the three.

According to police, a group of college students from Indiana have been traveling to Maryland and purchasing boxes of cold and allergy pills since January.

Police found the medications Tuesday after pulling over a vehicle carrying two of the college students, ages 21 and 22, and a 17-year-old girl. In the car, police discovered 103 boxes of Sudafed, Allegra and other allergy medications; directions to dozens of Food Lions, Giant grocery stores and other pharmacies around the state; a laptop computer; and a GPS device.

County police released the three after conferring with the state's attorney's office and confirming that, unlike many other states, Maryland does not have any laws on the books preventing bulk purchases of allergy medications. All three are from Evanston, police said.

On Thursday, however, a federal law will go into effect making any bulk purchases of medications containing pseudoephedrine illegal.

Had the new law been in effect, the three young people could have been charged federally, said John Horton, associate deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The law is part of the USA Patriot Act of 2006 and was signed into law March 9.

Meth cooks distill pseudoephedrine from allergy medications and use it to produce the highly addictive drug. Meth has become popular in western and Midwestern communities and has been spreading into Mid-Atlantic states. It can be made - or cooked - from household ingredients including lye, distilled water and strike plates from matchbooks.

In a news conference yesterday, Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan and County Executive Janet S. Owens used the case to call on the state legislature to pass a bill that would put limitations on the amount of over-the-counter allergy medications that could be purchased at one time in Maryland. Some chain stores, including Wal-Mart and Target, have voluntarily put limitations on how much of these medications may be bought.

"Maryland has weak laws with pseudoephedrine being sold over the counter," Shanahan said.

He added: "We have good drug laws, but we don't have good laws that address precursor ingredients."

Reached after the news conference, Owens said she didn't know about the federal law. "That is great, that will solve our problem," she said.

Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee stressed that a state law is still necessary. "The states have to [pass a law] because the states have a lot more police than the feds do," he said.

He added that federal authorities will most likely enforce the law "for individuals who possess tremendous amounts [of allergy medications] and are working in an organized situation."

Lt. David D. Waltemeyer Jr., spokesman for the county police, also said the department still supports state legislation. He said: "If we have to make a federal case out of it, it is not efficient."

County narcotics detectives learned about the students after a store owner became suspicious of a group of out-of-state customers in January, police said. The store owner, whom police declined to identify, called again Tuesday and alerted detectives that the students were back.

Police followed the car, with Indiana license plates, to several stores before making the stop.

The students told police they spent $6,000 of their own money on the medications and expected to resell them in Indiana to meth cooks for $20,000, Shanahan said.

Although the three Indiana residents don't face charges here, county police said they have been in touch with Evanston, Ind., authorities.

Detective Tim White, a county narcotics officer who was in charge of the case, said that the suspects turned over the 103 boxes of allergy medications voluntarily. Said White: "They knew what they were doing was wrong."

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