November 28, 2005
At my local drugstore, shelves of cold and allergy medicine have been replaced by merchandise cards hanging from metal rods. If I want to buy one of these remedies, I have to take the corresponding card to the pharmacist's counter, wait in line, show my ID and add my name to a register.
This procedure, required by an "emergency order" from Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, is supposed to prevent me from using the pseudoephedrine in products such as Sudafed and Dayquil to cook up a batch of methamphetamine in my garage.
Hard as this collateral damage is to justify, it pales next to that suffered by other innocent victims of the government's war on methamphetamine. Last summer, for instance, state and federal agents arrested 49 convenience store clerks and owners in Georgia on charges they sold pseudoephedrine and other supplies to informants posing as meth cooks.
The supplies, including matches, charcoal, antifreeze, coffee filters, aluminum foil, and cat litter, were all perfectly legal. The charges, carrying penalties of up to 25 years in prison as well as fines and asset forfeiture, are based on the doubtful premise the defendants knew or should have known what the fake customers pretended to be planning.
All but a few of the defendants are Indian immigrants, and many have a weak grasp of ordinary English, let alone the slang of black-market meth manufacturers. Several said they assumed the guy who bought matches and camping fuel, saying he needed to "finish up a cook," was having a barbecue.
This is the logic of the war on drugs. By criminalizing possession of a substance readily manufactured using innocuous everyday products, the government created the illicit labs it is trying to shut down by criminalizing the sale of those innocuous everyday products.
Perhaps recognizing that the lives of most Americans have not been affected by the "meth epidemic," prohibitionists are determined to spread the pain around.
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