Friday, March 03, 2006


Congress is glutinous with self-approbation after passing yet another bill that'll allegedly curb meth production.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved groundbreaking legislation designed to curb the production of crystal methamphetamine, a potent stimulant now consumed by 1.4 million Americans from Oregon to the Carolinas. The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act will impose nationwide controls on cold remedies that contain pseudoephedrine, meth's essential ingredient, and dramatically expand U.S. authority over global trade in the chemicals.

"This is the most important meth bill that's ever been passed by the United States Congress," said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing drug policy.
Though I agree that meth labs are a scourge and ought to be wiped out, I don't know if 1.4 million users really constitites an "epidemic." Interestingly, 1.4 million also happens to be the number of Americans who were arrested for drunk driving in 2004. Who were arrested, mind you; as the CDC notes,
That’s less than one percent of the 159 million self-reported episodes of alcohol–impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
Alcohol was a factor in 16,694 traffic deaths in 2004, which is 39% of the total traffic deaths in that year. Meth has a way to go before it matches that body count. And of course, alcohol kills people in other ways than car accidents.

Regulating cold medicine to this extent simply isn't worthwhile, especially when one considers how anti-meth laws can be used to harass innocent people. More to the point, meth cookers can easily get ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from ephedra itself, which grows all over the desert West like...well, a weed. One study estimates that using loose ephedra in meth production would cost $1000 per kilo, compared to $48,000 using cold capsules. Those are outdated figures, given ephedra's changed legal status since 1995. But the point remains: there are other options for meth labs.

Maybe we'd better start a pre-emptive program of aerial spraying, like the one we've pursued in Colombia to such excellent effect. We'd just have to hope that ephedra doesn't develop herbicide resistance.

There's an eerie parallel to the "War on Terror" here. Irrational, hyperactive government response has a disproportionate effect on the innocent, while causing the guilty to adopt new tactics. The government response to the new tactics is, once again, irrational and hyperactive. And as this deranged game of Whack-A-Mole progresses, it does far more damage to civil society than to the criminal element. The implication of this is that we're effectively allowing criminals and terrorists to determine what kind of society we live in. At which point, the extent to which authoritarianism needs criminality becomes disturbingly obvious. Truly, if it didn't exist, they'd have to invent it.


Phila said...


I don't take meth lightly. Everything you say about it is true. The environmental side of meth cooking is very serious too, as is the practice of boobytrapping and the risk of explosions.

That said, I hesitate to call alcoholism "controllable"; I know far too many people who've died, or almost died, because of it. (IIRC, there are about 100,000 alcohol-related deaths per year). One needn't downplay the devastating problems alcohol causes to appreciate the seriousness of meth, either.

But the main point of this post is that meth production can't be stamped out through regulating cold medicine. And when that form of intervention fails, as it inevitably will, we're likely to try others. So do we start using herbicides on wild ephedra? Do we change immigration and border security? In what ways? Each action of this type brings consequences, and some of these consequences may be pretty serious.

IMO, one doesn't necessarily downplay the dangers of meth by arguing against phony solutions to the problem, or by point out that the "war on drugs" is also a war on the poor, the environment, and civil liberties.

Anonymous said...

Heck, we've had some pretty strict controls on cold medicines here in Washington state for a few years now, and law enforcement has only recently acknowledged that, while they have seen a downturn in home-cooked meth, there has also been a corresponding increase in meth imported from Mexico. I'm sure the Federal act could also be called the "Mexican Druglord Full Employment Act of 2006".

-- Ab_Normal

Phila said...

while they have seen a downturn in home-cooked meth, there has also been a corresponding increase in meth imported from Mexico. I'm sure the Federal act could also be called the "Mexican Druglord Full Employment Act of 2006".

Yeah, that's a story in itself.

On the bright side, the Mexican druglords seem to have been undercutting meth sales for white supremacist gangs. Hooray for the Invisible Hand!