Pubdate: Sun, 14 Aug 2005
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2005 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Debra J. Saunders
Note: Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Referenced: New York Times article
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


The latest insanity in the war on drugs comes to you from Georgia. As 
the New York Times reported last week, the feds arrested 49 
convenience store clerks and owners -- essentially for selling legal 
cold and allergy pills.

"Operation Meth Merchant" is the government's way of making store 
clerks act as drug-enforcement agents -- or if they don't, they could 
face jail time. The feds enticed informers to tell the clerks they 
were buying cold pills or other products so they could "cook up" 
methamphetamines. That would make the store clerks guilty of a crime, 
if they knowingly sold to would-be meth-makers.

Most of the defendants are Indian immigrants who don't understand 
English particularly well -- and certainly don't know American slang. 
They're not drug dealers. They're working stiffs -- yet they face 
sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

"We really wanted to send the message that if you get into that line 
of business, selling products that you know are going to be used to 
make meth, you're going to prison," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias told 
the New York Times.

Sorry, the feds should save prison for real drug dealers and stop 
scaring the daylights out of law-abiding immigrants. Several of the 
defendants refused to sell customers more than two bottles of cold 
pills, so they were charged with selling another two bottles to the 
same customers the next day.

"It's just a continuing strategy -- that we have to have a drug 
panic," noted former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, now a 
fellow at the Hoover Institution. When he first became a cop, the big 
target for law enforcement was marijuana. "I remember the crackdown 
on pipes and the paraphernalia," he added. "The hysteria has to be 
maintained. The public alarm has to be maintained. And they have a 
real problem because some people, including myself, think the threat 
of terrorism is a lot worse than busting about 650,000 people a year for pot."

No lie. The feds are arresting convenience-store clerks selling cold 
pills when they should be investigating possible terrorist cells.

Then there's the fairness issue. Bill Piper of the anti-drug war Drug 
Policy Alliance noted that Walgreens agreed to pay a $1.3 million 
fine for selling over-the-counter cold medicine to a Texas 
methamphetamine dealer: "They have two standards, one for corporate 
chains and one for independent store owners -- basically giving fines 
to corporate chains, while arresting the independent store owners."

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure by 
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Jim Talent, Missouri 
Republican, that would require stores to keep cold medicines with 
pseudoephedrine behind the counter and limit the amount one person 
can buy to about 250 pills a month.

Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman explained, "We hope that this 
legislation will provide a clear signal to the pharmaceutical 
industry that alternatives to pseudoephedrine should be found. 
Companies sell cold medications in Europe without pseudoephedrine, 
and the same could be true here."

Even Bill Piper sees the behind-the-counter requirement and purchase 
limits as reasonable regulations. But the bill goes too far in 
requiring consumers to sign a logbook and show identification to buy Sudafed.

Sorry, senators, but the fact that some of us have allergies is not 
Uncle Sam's business. Mr. Piper notes other products that can be used 
to make methamphetamine -- rubbing alcohol, brake fluid, rock salt -- 
then asks, "Are we going to require shoppers to show IDs and give 
stores their names and addresses to buy those products, too?"

Oregon lawmakers passed a measure that will force consumers to get 
prescriptions to buy Sudafed. It makes no sense. First, the push to 
make emergency contraception available over-the-counter and now a law 
to make you see a doctor to get allergy medicine?

Mr. McNamara, who believes the government should end this modern 
prohibition on drugs, said, "There's no end to this, once you begin 
to do something you shouldn't be doing in the first place."

Certainly it has come to this: Prosecutors are treating innocent 
store clerks as if they are drug dealers; the Feinstein bill treats 
law-abiding citizens as if they are lawbreakers. If you want to treat 
a cold or allergies, you have to check with the government. When drug 
warriors go after people who aren't drug users or dealers, they've 
made the conscious decision to treat innocent people like enemies.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake