By Ron VandenBoom
Jim Rice, Republican candidate for attorney general, is concerned about recent increases in the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine in Montana.
"We need to address the problem beyond the scope of one agency, by developing further partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement," he said in a recent interview.
Rice advocates getting the federal government to declare Montana to be a "designated zone" in the war against the production and distribution of methamphetamine.
The designated zone designation, according to Rice, would direct federal dollars to Montana that could be used to "put more police on the street and do a better job of tracing labs."
Rice said that two years ago six methamphetamine labs were busted in Montana and last year that figure rose to 34.
So far this year, 50 have been raided, he said.
"So it's a growing problem that we need to step up our efforts on," Rice said.
He also noted that the traffic between Montana and Canada and the importation of chemicals for the manufacture of methamphetamine from Canada is an issue of concern.
"It's not that the drug itself is imported from South America or some place where you can fight trafficking," he said. He noted that this is one drug that is easily manufactured within our own borders and all the necessary supplies are available in Montana.
Agricultural suppliers also need to be educated about the types of chemicals that are needed in the manufacture of the drug, Rice said. He added that many of the chemicals needed in producing the drug are obtained through the industry and that they could be an important link in stemming the growth of the number of labs.
Other issues of concern to Rice are youth crime and violence in Montana's schools. It is an issue he says he feels particularly close to because his daughter, on more than one occasion, has experienced first hand a lock-down at her school in Helena.
"More kids today are coming from challenged families," he said. "We need to do a better job of identifying youth at risk."
Rice said national studies have been done that certain trends and signs exist in youth we need be able to identify in order to prevent the kinds of tragedies we've seen in other parts of the country.
"We need to do a better job in the whole continuum of youth services from beginning to end," he said.
He singled out foster homes, youth homes, educational programs and an expanded variety of placement options as things the state should be looking at.
While admitting that not all of these things fall in the purview of the Department of Justice, he does see himself and the office as an advocate in the legislature for these kinds of youth programs.
"If we don't intervene earlier with kids at risk then it does end up being a criminal problem," he said.
Rice is a native of Glasgow and a 1975 graduate of Glasgow High School. He has practiced law in Helena for the last 18 years where he has also served three terms in the Montana House of Representatives. During the last legislative session he was elected by his Republican colleagues to the position of House Majority Leader.
"I worked on a lot of issues that are germane to the Department of Justice so this is kind of a natural step for me," he said.