RHINELANDER - After nearly 40 years as a pharmacist, Tom Welke has been robbed, threatened at gunpoint, and had his pharmacy burgled.
"It just kind of goes along with the job, in a way," Welke said in Rhinelander's Apothecary Pharmacy on Thursday afternoon.
One of the main reasons lately for those crimes tends to be people trying to get their hands illegally on pseudoephedrine pills, which they can use to make meth.
"Most everyone that comes to purchase it here has a legitimate reason for purchasing it," Welke said.
Even so, in order to buy the decongestant pills pharmacists must record the buyer's name, address, and identification in a paper log book. Police can come look at the book, but it requires them to take the time to come by.
"The log system does not work that accurately for that," Welke said.
Enter the Wisconsin Assembly to try and fix the issue. Wednesday, lawmakers voted 96 to 1 to pass Assembly Bill 306. Lake Geneva Republican Tyler August was the one dissenting vote.
The bill would require pharmacists to enter that information into the National Precursor Log Exchange, an electronic database which instantly throws up a red flag if someone shouldn't or can't buy the drug. The system would have an override function a pharmacist can use in emergencies. The system would not apply to people buying the drug with a valid prescription.
"No different than a credit card machine that's real-time money," Welke said. "You know, it's not going to let it go through if there's nothing home."
Wisconsin law limits the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy to 7.5 grams in a 30-day period. Federal law further limits the total to just 3.5 grams per day.
"A database that would give us instant access would be awesome," Tomahawk Police Chief Al Elvins said.
Elvins knows how big of a problem pseduo's byproduct -- methamphetamine -- can be. Elvins says meth and marijuana are the two most common drug arrests in his city. The TPD collects thousands of used needles every year, many from meth addicts.
"When meth came, it made crack-cocaine look like candy," Elvins said.
Elvins thinks the electronic database is a good step in the right direction, but not perfect. He still worries about straw purchases, where criminals send others to buy pseudoephedrine for them.
"They'd send their 18-year-old kid in to buy 10 boxes, they'd send their wife in, their mom in, their neighbor, their neighbor's neighbor's friend," Elvins said. "The criminals are one step ahead. We still have to use due process. We still have to go under the guidelines of the constitution to catch these people. We'll do it. We'll do several hours of investigation, days, weeks, months, whatever it takes to ensure we are, in effect, doing the right thing."
Welke agrees with Elvin's concerns. The pharmacist thinks the database would take a while to build up a list of all the potential illegal buyers. But it's time and energy Welke sees as well-spent.
"Our main objective is to protect people's health. No matter what," Welke said.
Assembly Bill 306 still needs approval from the Senate and Governor Walker.