Police see meth arrests dip, while cocaine use climbs
By Kari Petrie
Published: October 06. 2007 12:30AM
For the first time since methamphetamine hit the community’s radar, some law enforcement officials say they are seeing a downturn in the sale of the drug.
The decrease coincides with an increase in sales of cocaine, Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said.
Last year, the Stearns County Attorney’s Office saw a five-year high of 89 meth-related convictions. There were 51 convictions related to cocaine. From January through August of this year, however, the county has had 26 meth convictions and 38 cocaine convictions.
That puts cocaine convictions up slightly based on monthly averages for the two years.
No one knows for sure why cocaine sales are on the rise and meth sales are on the decline, but law enforcement officers have one theory. Investigators have focused on finding meth sellers and have interrupted the supply. That affects the price of and demand for the drug. Users see cocaine as an alternative.
Several years ago, a buyer could get an ounce of meth for $600, Sanner said. Now it costs $2,000.
But Sanner warns people against thinking that the community is winning the fight against meth use.
“That’s a huge mistake,” he said. “It’s far from over.”
There is, however, a shift toward cocaine being seen now. At $700 for seven grams, cocaine is more expensive than meth, but it is easier to find, Sanner said.
Meth has been harder to make in Minnesota since the state in July 2005 restricted sales of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the drug. Sellers have to bring it in from other areas, Sanner said.
Drug users have preferred meth over other drugs because it was once cheap, and the effects last longer than with other drugs.
“Nobody wanted the coke,” Sanner said.
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall said the additional resources to law enforcement with specialized task forces also helped keep meth sales down. Investigators are able to put more attention on finding meth sellers and are getting better at it, she said.
The Central Minnesota Drug Task Force covers much of Central Minnesota, and the St. Cloud Police Department has a Drug Unit and Metro Gang Strike Force. Sherburne County has a drug task force, too.
Money for those groups comes from a variety of sources. For example, the Central Minnesota Drug Task Force has 14 members and an annual budget of almost $1 million. That money comes from federal, state and the local agencies that it covers.
Kendall said those types of specialized forces have gotten better at tracking drug sellers.
Sgt. Tom Gjemse runs St. Cloud Police Department’s Drug Unit and Metro Gang Strike Force. Cocaine continues to be prevalent in the St. Cloud metro area, he said. But it is harder to get meth than it once was, and the price has gone up.
Sherburne County Sheriff Bruce Anderson said he hasn’t seen a big change in meth or cocaine sales, but he says it’s not unusual to see a change in the types of drugs being sold over time.
Investigators now have more informants who are tipping them off to larger shipments of marijuana, he said.
There also has been a change in marijuana’s potency, Kendall said. Marijuana is about 10 times stronger now than in the 1970s, she said.
“This isn’t your father’s ditch weed,” she said.
According to a position paper on the medical use of marijuana by the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the average levels of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, have increased from 6 percent to 13 percent in the last two decades.
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