Q&A: AG talks alcohol abuse prevention

Patricia Madrid is New Mexico’s attorney general. She was in Portales on Thursday to discourage alcohol consumption among students.

Q How can law enforcement and the community help combat the problems of alcohol?

A We know that for any program to be successful, we have to have the involvement of the entire community. We now know from research … that young people are much more affected by the influence of their parent than they think. It’s not so much what their parent lectures them on, it’s more what children see their parents doing.

Of course, law enforcement are the first responders … to all of the problems. So they can probably talk about the consequences of unwise choices. We also think that churches should be involved. So many people take guidance from their churches.

It is not just a matter of passing harsh laws. We have to change the culture. It’s long, it’s hard, it takes everybody, but it can be done.

Look at tobacco. There was a time when everybody in this country smoked and it was encouraged. Now, it’s discouraged. We don’t smoke on airplanes, we don’t smoke in restaurants. It can be the same with alcohol.

Q A measure that didn’t make it through the Legislature this session dealt with prohibiting convicted drunken drivers from buying alcohol for five years. Is a law like this too harsh, or something we could use?

A First of all, very few pieces of legislation actually make it to the Legislature. It is a long process. We saw a lot of very good bills that fell to the wayside.

However, we did get a good bill through the Legislature involving DWI. After the first conviction, the driver will be required to have an (ignition lock) on their vehicle at their expense.

You can pass all the strict laws you want, and New Mexico has very strict laws on drinking and driving. But you have to fund courts, you have to fund public defenders and prosecutors, you have to fund jails. It’s an entire system that needs to be funded for enforcement of these laws.

Q Another drug culture that has taken hold lies with methamphetamines. What can law enforcement and community members do about this drug?

A We’re looking at Oklahoma’s laws. Oklahoma is the lead state in combating methamphetamines. They enacted a law that requires medications be put behind the counter. Records are kept of who buys it and (there are) limits on how much you can buy. The law in Oklahoma has been effective in cutting down 80 percent of the meth labs, so we know it works.

In September, I will be hosting a methamphetamines conference in Albuquerque. We want to talk about the best practices for prosecution, the best practices for finding these small labs, cleaning them out and what laws are necessary to get this under control.

Q What about a local program like MethWatch, in which stores volunteer to place markings near the UPC codes of materials commonly used to make methamphetamines?

A I really want to commend the community for getting behind this program. This is the kind of program that needs to be adopted statewide and you can be sure that I will be inviting some of the people from this community to talk to people at the summit.

Q Recently, Target has announced its stores will move medications used to make methamphetamine to its pharmacies — or not sell the medications if the store has no pharmacy. Is Target making the right move or overstepping its involvement?

A It’s not just a problem for law enforcement and parents. The entire community has to get involved to solve this problem. (It’s) a perfect example of the business community getting involved.

We’re even working with pharmaceutical companies, because they don’t want to be saddled with the blame. They have developed a cold medication that doesn’t combine with other chemicals, that can’t be used to make methamphetamines.

Q Let’s go back to the system needed to enforce laws, primarily public defenders. There are large differences in the case loads of prosecutors and public defenders in almost every state, and Louisiana is running into a problem with funding for public defenders. How does New Mexico avoid a similar situation?

A People have to recognize that when you successfully prosecute a criminal, there’s all kinds of pieces. Law enforcement has to do the proper investigation to get evidence, prosecutors must be paid, you have to have evidence that is extensive to get a successful prosecution. You also have to get a public defender, because if somebody’s not properly defended, you will cause a faulty conviction that may be set aside on appeal. It is imperative that the legislators fund public defenders.

If it’s not properly prosecuted, if it’s not properly defended, it will get reversed.

Q Let’s talk about your career in the process. How did you get started?

A I had a double major in English and philosophy in undergraduate school. I went to law school because I like advocating for causes. I did well in law school.

Five years out of law school, I realized there were no women judges in New Mexico. I ran against an incumbent.
I loved being a judge. It involves a lot of critical thinking, writing, studying the law and judging the credibility of witnesses.

— Compiled by Kevin Wilson, Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico