Recently by Jeffrey A. Tucker: The Film Noir Moment
This morning’s paper blared a headline, "25 arrested on meth-related charges." There followed a picture of all these very bad people, and an accompanying story. My first thought was, "Well, I guess I was wrong to think that the methamphetamine problem is largely hype; it’s amazing that all these people had meth labs in their basements, and right here in my home town."
I turned the page.
Then I did a double take and flipped back. Aren’t there a lot of women in this group? Yes, there are. Somehow when I think of women in Lee County, the image of them building meth labs doesn’t quite fit. I mean, it could happen, and maybe my brain is hopelessly stuffed with stereotypes, but it still seems strange.
Then I looked again: there are old people, young people, long-haired and short-haired people, and every other type. In other words, this looks like a cross section of rural America.
"They stand accused of buying too much cold medicine."
More proof that meth making is a popular sport? Well, it was time to read the story, which turns out to be a simple cut-and-paste from the police headquarters’ report.
The arrests stem from a three-month long drug investigation that targeted individuals who were purchasing over the legal amount of pseudoephedrine, according to a release from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Now hold on here just a minute. I personally have a heck of a time every year in this season, just getting Mucinex or Sudafed that works. Ever since George Bush nearly banned the stuff in 2005, the manufacturers have been packing the shelves with a pseudo-pseudoephedrine that might as well be a placebo. The new stuff doesn’t work and everyone knows it.
To get the real stuff, you have to go to a drug store, not just the convenience store. Then you have to ask. Then you have to show your license. Then they ask how many you want and you get the sense that you are begging like an addict. Then you sign some national registry. Then later, one presumes, you are checked to make sure that you are not buying more than your officially allotted amount.
Don’t lose what you have because then you can’t get more. Nor can you keep some at the office, some in the car, and some at home. No, you must guard the stuff with your very life, lest you run out and are denied more by the Stuffy Nose Czar.
Before 2005, you could buy as many Sudafed packages as you did Big Mac sandwiches, and the police didn’t care. Now, your 30-day allotment is nine grams. So this seems like it would be enough, but what if you are buying for two people or an entire family, or lose some, or give them away to a friend, or they fall to the back of the cabinet, or you’re out of town? And how can you possibly track precisely how much you have purchased?
There is now an air of fear and threat in the process of fixing a clogged nose that wasn’t there a few years ago. When I bring this subject up to people, they say, "Oh, that’s plenty of Sudafed for one person, so stop your kvetching."
To me, this illustrates how regulations and rationing have a way of changing the subject from principles to practicalities. What if there were a rule that said that you can only purchase 30 Triple Whoppers from Burger King per person per month? Would we say, "Oh, no one needs more than that? "
Perhaps we would, but that is not the point. The point is that this is a violation of rights. Rationing of all types represents an egregious imposition on our right to choose. It weighs down daily life with arbitrary threats and increases the role of coercion in society — and this is true whether or not we actually bump up against the limits.
Let’s get back to our friends who were snagged in this sting operation. I’m looking through their names and the charges. In every case, the charge is "unlawful possession of a precursor." The "precursor" here is Sudafed.
Can you believe it? What was lawful only a few years ago now gets you written up in the papers as a drug dealer. It ruins your life. You now have a record.
Now, two of these people have additional information by their names. One says, "unlawful possession of a controlled substance." It could be pot. It could be anything. The report doesn’t say. Only one in the group has the following pasted after his name: "unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance." This, we might presume, is the man with the meth lab; though we don’t know for sure.
Looking up home-based meth labs now, I can easily see that this has to be one of the most dangerous processes ever undertaken in any home. Clearly this is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, no one would ever take the risk were the substance not illegal. The laws have ended up creating huge incentives for mad-scientist tricks at home, risking lives and turning city blocks into combustible mine fields.
Even more interesting is how the black market is finding its way around the laws. Whereas hundreds or thousands of pills used to be required to make meth, Bush’s laws have led to new innovations: like the shake-and-bake method, which uses a legal number of pills and allows the user to make the stuff while driving. Yikes. That seems much more dangerous than texting while driving.
Keep in mind that all this insanity is a result of the laws themselves. People are still using the drug, but they are now risking their lives to do so. In other words, the laws are not working, except to make meth production and use even more dangerous.
Again, back to our friends in the police lineup. For all we know, these people didn’t do anything related to meth production or distribution. They stand accused of buying too much cold medicine.
To put it simply, this is an outrage, and it is even more disgusting that the local press is glad to play along with it. Here we have a nice illustration of how the police are used in an age of arbitrary law and despotic consumption controls. You become a criminal merely for buying today what was legal yesterday. And then society avoids you. You might be a druggie, and the suspicion alone is enough justification for you to be robbed of all rights and utterly smashed as a human being.
In my view, all drugs should be completely legalized. People tell conjectural horror stories of Meth Inc. distributing the stuff online, but they don’t shake me in the slightest. The people who use the stuff would still do so, and those like me who have no interest still would not. The key thing is that the dangers to person and property would be dramatically reduced, and essential rights to do things like unclog our stuffed noses would remain intact.
The real horror is the prohibition, which has brought about a dark despotism that everyone pretends not to notice. It now even affects our ability to innocently medicate our way out of the common cold.
This article originally appeared on Mises.org.