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Tennessee district attorneys to focus on outlawing synthetic drugs in 2012

Every year, each of Tennessee’s district attorneys faces different challenges in his or her district. As a group, the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference continuously works to identify serious areas of concern that must be addressed at the state level. Going into 2012, synthetic and prescription drug abuse tops the list.
According to District Attorney Tony Clark, synthetic drugs like K2, a synthetic marijuana, are spreading across the state and have the potential to eclipse methamphetamine as the most dangerous drug in Tennessee.
The drugs are often marketed in convenience stores as incense, bath salts or plant food, and commonly feature cartoon characters on package labels.
In 2012, Tennessee’s district attorneys will seek to increase penalties for those who sell and produce synthetic drugs. Because synthetics constantly change to capitalize on existing legal gray areas, the DAs will also work to make certain these substances remain illegal and out of reach of youth.
Prescription drug abuse is not new to Tennessee. But in the new year, DAs will be looking at new ways prescription drugs can be addressed through common-sense steps that do not necessarily result in prison time, Clark said.
According to Clark, the DAs will propose more access to the state’s prescription drug monitoring database by law enforcement, more active monitoring of that database, and a requirement that physicians and pharmacists check the database when prescribing or filling any pain medications.
Their hope is that these steps will reduce theft and distribution of legitimately prescribed medications, the operation of pill mills, the practice of “doctor shopping” and prescription fraud.
The following are additional issues of importance to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference in 2012:
• Convicted felons are currently prohibited from owning and carrying firearms; however, present penalties for failing to abide by this law are not in line with the potential violent outcomes it seeks to prevent.
Tennessee’s DAs would like to see jail time increased to at least one year from six months for armed felons with a prior nonviolent offense, and to at least two years for those with a prior violent offense, Clark said.
• Gang crime is a topic of importance in cities from East to West Tennessee.
Officials believe the time is right to increase sentencing for gang crimes to the next higher felony grade when offenses are committed by groups of three or more, as opposed to one on one.
• Lastly, the group will continue its work on making roads safer through refinements to laws dealing with impaired driving.
The DAs’ main objective in this area in 2012 will be to require greater use of alcohol-monitoring devices such as interlock ignitions for violators who request special considerations, often in the form of restricted driver’s licenses.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference was created by the General Assembly in 1961 to provide a more prompt and efficient administration of justice in the courts of this state.
It is composed of the district attorneys general from the state’s 31 judicial districts.