PAWHUSKA — When Oklahoma legislators crafted the nation's model methamphetamine legislation in 2004, state drug agents worried that meth cooks might seek cover on tribal land. The Osage Nation's new Congress closed part of that loophole this month by becoming the first Oklahoma tribe to pass an anti-meth bill. Structured after the state law, it bans possession of more than 9 grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which are cold medicine ingredients needed to make meth. The law also establishes punishment for transporting or selling large amounts of either precursor. "Perhaps this law will have the ability catch some who otherwise wouldn't be caught. But at the least, I'd say it's a strong statement of their position on this," said Scott Rowland, general counsel for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Osage Congresswoman Debra Littleton, who sponsored the bill, said she has seen the effects of meth within her family. She isn't alone. Nearly 60 percent of all cases handled by the tribe's social services office can be traced to meth use, Littleton said. "I would say that almost everyone in the tribe has been touched by meth in some way," she said. Under federal law, tribal courts can't impose more than one-year sentences. However, in addition to the maximum one-year term in Osage Nation court, the tribal law includes a possible 10-year banishment from the tribe. That means losing health care and other benefits, but banishment also carries a strong stigma within tribes. A federal law enacted in March includes provisions similar to Oklahoma's. Two federal prosecutors said federal courts likely would take jurisdiction in egregious cases where the Osage Nation's punishment is deemed insufficient. Cooperation in such cases between tribal and federal prosecutors is "more the rule rather than the exception," said Edward Snow, who prosecutes crime on Indian land for the federal court in Tulsa. "They (tribal courts) look at it and say, the federal government can do more to the guy than we can." The Oklahoma law made pseudoephedrine tablets a schedule V substance that can be sold only at licensed pharmacies. Consumers must show a photo identification and sign for the drug. It restricts the amount a person can buy over any 30-day period to 9 grams. The law instantly caused a huge reduction in reported meth labs. Rowland, the state narcotics bureau lawyer, said his agents contemplated the prospect of meth cooks and suppliers, or perhaps even tribal-owned stores, taking advantage of their status to evade the state anti-meth law. "But I can tell you we haven't seen any cases of someone racing to a tribal store and buying large quantities and leaving or even buying large quantities and staying around (on tribal land) to cook. The Osage Nation law, which passed unanimously, applies only to Osage members in certain parts of Osage County. Snow's office will have jurisdiction for meth crimes committed by other people on Osage land. Still, Rowland said, it is a start. "There has been some ability for those who want to do wrong to claim the cover of their tribal membership on tribal land. I'm just delighted to see that the tribes aren't going to stand for that and are passing their own legislation," Rowland said.
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