Oklahoma's outsourced meth production (UPDATED)

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An article by A. Barton Hinkle, on the website of Reason, the magazine of the libertarian Cato Institute, points to Oklahoma's pseudoephedrine restrictions and their impact on the methamphetamine trade, and not in a good way, in a column about proposed legislation in Virginia:

Second, it almost certainly will not impede the meth trade; it will only increase consumption of meth from Mexican narco-labs. This isn't mere speculation. It's exactly what happened in Oklahoma, which imposed restrictions on the sale of cold and allergy medication several years ago to combat meth trafficking there.

Result? "Six and a half pounds of Mexican meth, also known as 'Ice,' has been taken off the street by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics," reported an Oklahoma City TV station last year. "It's the second meth bust in the last week." The story quoted the head of the state narcotics bureau, who said, "The No. 1 threat to the citizens in the state of Oklahoma is the Hispanic sell groups that have infiltrated rural Oklahoma." Oklahoma did not reduce consumption--it outsourced production. Some victory.

Third, the proposal targets the wrong thing. The problem is meth, not meth precursors. Cold and allergy remedies can be used to make meth, but so can soda bottles and coffee filters. Applying the fanatical logic of the nation's drug war, if restricting the sale of allergy medicines does not stop meth use--and it won't--the next step should be to track the sale of 2-liter soda bottles.

The column also compares the logic behind pseudoephedrine restrictions to the thinking behind gun regulation:

That warped reasoning goes like this: Millions of Americans use a lawful product in a lawful manner, but because a minute fraction use it unlawfully, everyone else will have to submit to government monitoring, inconvenience and constraint. Including you, dear citizen. Because while you have given no one any grounds to think you have broken the law, it is theoretically possible that you might do so at some point in the future. You are not to be trusted.

I supported the current pseudoephedrine restrictions when they were first approved, but it seems that the 2004 law only temporarily slowed meth usage for so long as it took addicts and their suppliers to find other sources.

Hinkle's argument does overlook some advantages of imported Mexican meth over local manufacture: Fewer houses blowing up or burning down, fewer kids exposed to the toxic fumes of their parents' meth labs.

Still, someone buying a decongestant for its intended purpose shouldn't have to worry about being eyed with suspicion, and they shouldn't have their medical needs unmet because the state's pseudoephedrine computer tracking system is offline -- or, worse yet, going to jail because they accidentally bought more than their allowed amount:

Consider what happened to Sally Harpold, an Indiana grandmother who was hauled off in handcuffs, booked and embarrassed on the front page of the local paper a couple of years ago. As Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum reported, her crime--if you want to call it that--was "buying a box of Zyrtec-D allergy medicine for her husband, then buying a box of Mucinex-D decongestant for her daughter at another pharmacy less than a week later. That second transaction put Harpold six-tenths of a gram over Indiana's three-gram-per-week limit" for pseudoephedrine.

A RESPONSE (2011/10/15): A reader familiar with Oklahoma's drug situation writes to say that the song and dance you go through to buy Sudafed is worth it, and that Oklahoma's law has been a phenomenal success, eliminating the "horrible boobytrapped biohazard dens" that anyone might encounter -- motel rooms, renthouses, cars. The current pseudoephedrine law has brought that problem to an end, along with the corruption and violence of the meth production industry. No one would wish meth labs on Mexico, but better there than here, and in Mexico meth production is not done in small labs, but in remote, large-scale factories. Pseudoephedrine has been illegal in Mexico since 2008 and has to be smuggled in, adding a layer of expense, complexity, and vulnerability to their operations that law enforcement both inside and outside of Mexico can exploit.

AND A NEW TWIST: Last week the arrest of a man carrying a backpack meth lab in the 81st and Lewis Walmart in Tulsa led to the discovery of a meth lab in a storm sewer nearby:

Roy Teeters who oversees the storm drainage system for the City of Tulsa Public Works Department says there are more than 1,000 miles of storm drains in Tulsa.

Sizes range from a basketball to a dump truck.

The tunnels are large enough to attract a meth cook who used one of those tunnels as his kitchen.

Police say a hundred yards back through the tunnel that drains into Fred Creek they found they found an active meth lab, a discarded bottle used to make meth and meth-making materials....

However, it just wasn't the meth cooks down in the tunnels.

Officers say homeless people were living in the tunnels.

They found a couch, a chair, clothes and stolen property.

In 2011, Tulsa has already passed the number of meth lab busts we had in 2010.

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Michelle said:

Like Hinkle, I think you overlooked something. Imported meth means fewer house explosion and exposure to toxins IN OKLAHOMA. The children in Mexico continue to be exposed to their parent's meth labs. While I'm sure it wasn't intentional, as written, your article seems to imply that the harmful effects of meth are irrelevant if they aren't happening in Oklahoma.

You're absolutely right, Michelle. So the best we can say about Oklahoma's pseudoephedrine laws is they push some of the problems elsewhere, while importing the organized crime networks that bring in imported meth, while failing to accomplish the stated goal of eliminating meth.

mark said:

"That warped reasoning goes like this: Millions of Americans use a lawful product [guns] in a lawful manner, but because a minute fraction use it unlawfully, everyone else will have to submit to government monitoring, inconvenience and constraint."

I actually agree with this reasoning, but wonder how a terror-obsessed libertarian might justify the "monitoring, inconvenience and constraint" imposed by the TSA on air travel by millions of law-abiding Americans?

What is the limiting principle that can distinguish between the possibility of a few hundred annual casualties from a couple of dramatic terrorist attacks, and the same (or greater) magnitude of deaths resulting from a multitude of smaller (non-ideological) incidents involving the use of otherwise-regulated firearms in an illicit manner?!?

I doubt you'll find too many libertarians at Reason.com -- or conservatives, for that matter -- willing to defend the TSA. Even someone as concerned about the risk of terrorism as Daniel Pipes refers to TSA procedures as "airport security theater." Pipes praises El Al's approach as less of an annoyance to passengers and more effective at identifying someone boarding the flight with bad intent.

mark said:

I agree that profiling and behavioral screening is the preferable approach.

You missed the big deal in that piece: the infiltration of Oklahoma rural areas by Mexican cartels. It is hard for Americans to get the full scope of Mexican meth production. It's not done in mobile homes eking out a liter or two but at massive chemical plants producing drums. The cartels have been terrorizing Arizona, made worse by the huge decline in state revenues leaving law enforcement hampered. A similar situation is likely to occur in Oklahoma. We've traded local addicted breaking bads for mature, ruthless, massive organizations with the funds to buy legislators. Wr

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 10, 2011 12:00 AM.

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