It’s been almost two years since legislation changing certain drug-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors took effect and the meth epidemic in southern Oklahoma has shifted and shaped as a result.
When State Question 780 went into effect in July 2017, possession of up to 19.8 grams of meth became a misdemeanor rather than a felony, said Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant.
Misdemeanors come with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000, making it harder for the court system to reach and extend help to those experiencing meth addiction, said District 20 Attorney Craig Ladd.
“Unfortunately, the more lenient property and drug possession laws have made it much more difficult to induce people to enter our drug court program,” Ladd said. “Instead, they just do a short stint in the county jail and then re-offend again soon thereafter.”
Distribution and manufacturing of meth remains a felony. And yet, manufacturing, at least, isn’t as problematic as it used to be, Bryant said.
“We are told by several folks that were in the business ‘There’s none being made around here anymore, it’s just being brought in’,” Bryant said.
Bryant said most of the meth is brought in from the west coast and Mexico now. This, in turn, makes the street prices cheaper and the drug more accessible.
“It seems as though the cartels have flooded the market with their product,” Ladd said.
Bryant said those who were manufacturing meth in Carter County around 18 to 20 years ago are about to have their sentences come to an end. And for those serving time for felony drug possession charges prior to July 2017, their charges could be reduced to misdemeanors with the passage of HB 1269 on May 28.
“I think HB 1269 will allow non-violent convicts who are truly looking to turn their lives around an opportunity to have their convictions expunged in a more rapid manner than was previously possible,” Ladd said. “But I do not see how it will help stem our meth epidemic.”
Typically, individuals reintegrating into society after facing meth charges will go through a drug court program where they are carefully monitored through drug tests, counseling and meetings, Bryant said.
“I hope it’s a smooth transition, but there will be a learning curve again because, unfortunately,  those folks, when they’re in the system like that, they’re told when to do it and how to do it constantly every day,” Bryant said. “And then to get back out into society and have to go and fend for yourself— it’s a learning curve.”
However, the recovery community in Ardmore has been growing as a result of this ongoing battle, said Broadway House Executive Director David Lowden, in a previous interview. Several crisis centers and transitional housing facilities exist to help those in drug court and those who just find themselves needing help recovering from substance abuse.
“This community is great about helping people in recovery. As far as applying for grants and getting funding to help people, Ardmore is great,” Lowden said. “Since I’ve been here it’s been really good.”
But, as Lowden said, those individuals have to be willing to get help.
Bryant said he urges anyone who observes any activity related to meth use or distribution to reach out to their local police department or the Ardmore Police Department at 580-223-1212.
“It’s a horrible drug — there are no good drugs, but meth is probably one of the worst ones I’ve seen,” Bryant said. “It just totally destroys people’s lives and loved ones.”