I went to the drug store to buy some Sudafed a few days ago. It was kept behind the pharmacy counter, and I had to show ID in order to buy it. I had been through this process before at Walmart. I knew that many stores were limiting access to OTC meds containing pseudoephedrine in order to combat the illicit methamphetamine trade. I seriously question the efficacy of the tactic, but it's not the first anti-crime measure that I lacked faith in.
I asked the gal at the counter whether the limits placed on Sudafed were mandated by law, or were just company policy. She told me that she thought it was mandated by state law. When I got home, I decided to do a little research. Much to my surprise, I discovered that it was a federal law that placed limits on Sudafed purchases. And not just any federal law, it was a provision of the USA Patriot Act called the Combat Methamphetamine Act (CMA).
The patriot Act? How did that slip by without my noticing? But that's not the most surprising part. From a Reason Magazine article:
Key anti-meth provisions in the legislation include:
Restricts The Sale Of Necessary Ingredients To Make Methamphetamine.
Restricts the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine (PPA) by placing them behind the counter, requiring purchasers to show identification, and limiting how much one person can buy to 9 grams a month and 3.6 grams in a single day.
Products must be sold in blister packs, each of which may contain a maximum of two dosage units.
Ironically, some Democrats who objected to National Security Agency wiretaps in December actually championed provisions that step on privacy in the name of stopping meth. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), who voted for a filibuster after the revelation of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program in December, co-sponsored the CMA and helped insert it into the PATRIOT Act conference report after failed attempts to pass it through other legislation. The new provisions were stalled with the filibuster and temporary PATRIOT extensions, but now appear to be poised for passage with the compromise bill.
So, wiretapping international calls to/from numbers believed to be associated with terrorists is bad, but making you show ID and sign for OTC cold medicine is just fine. And what is done with this information? According to the Reason article:
Once you sign for your medicine, your name becomes part of "a functional monitoring program" that would "allow law enforcement officials to track and ultimately prevent suspicious buying behavior of ingredients for meth production," according to a Feinstein press release describing a similar stand-alone bill.
A "functional monitoring program," eh? Where are all the "civil libertarians" on this? The sad part of this is that it looks like it's all for nothing, anyway. From the National Drug Intelligence Center:
- Methamphetamine production appears to have increased sharply in Mexico since 2002. Mexican criminal groups are able to acquire bulk quantities of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine from China and other countries for use in Mexico-based laboratories.
- Methamphetamine smuggling from Mexico into the United States via Arizona appears to have increased sharply since 2001. More methamphetamine was seized at or between POEs in Arizona in 2003 than at or between POEs in California or Texas.
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