The Free Agent has a cold. Normally, she just lets her iron constitution deal with such peripheral matters, but her friend Nude Eel recommended Sudafed, thus putting the FA on the path to federal prison. Well, actually, it was Mister Eel who endangered himself, because the FA didn’t have any government-issued identification on her and he signed for the stuff. (The good stuff—12 Hour, Non-Drowsy, Extended-Release Tablets, oh, yeah!) Had he bought another box for himself later that day, the FA might have been visiting him in federal prison for the next five years.
The Sudafed shelf-ban has been written about extensively, especially after the arrest of saintly “Indiana grandmother of triplets”, Sally Horpold. Like Mister Eel, she was just a mule who—not realizing she was putting our kids at risk—bought cold meds for both her husband and daughter in the same week. (The FA doesn’t know what the significance of the grandkiddies is either, but she’s always referred to that way.) The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, a little add-on to the USA PATRIOT reauthorization bill, makes it a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, to purchase more than one package containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine per day. Granny Harpole was charged with a misdemeanor under state law which set the limit at two packages per week. As citizens who might pass through Vermillion County, Indiana one day, we can be reassured that as a condition of dropping the charges, Harpole agreed to participate in a drug deferral program. The Free Agent envisions this program to be tailored to the specific offender, wherein Harpole will confess her powerlessness over decongestants and receive instruction in the use of a neti pot.
Indiana state senator Tim Skinner, who drafted the legislation, expressed both regret for what happened and resolve to tweak (no pun intended) the law.
Step 1: Hassle innocent people more, aka, implement an Airplane Liquids procedure. Pharmacies are already required to check IDs and maintain log books of purchaser’s names and addresses. Skinner suggests “Maybe at the point of sale, the pharmacies need to have a placard that says what the limit is.”
Step 2: Stand by your law. Vigo County, which includes Terre Haute, has a population just under 106,000, and has been arresting ten people per month under the cold medicine trafficking ban. Not that they are all charged, as Harpole was, under that law. Like many seemingly useless laws, this one has utility for law enforcement—providing a pretext for further investigation. But why drag pharmacies into it at all, make it a misdemeanor to wear sneakers or own a telephone, and give law enforcement the tool it needs to catch all the bad guys.
Step 3: Expand and computerize. Karen Cross of the Vigo County Drug Task Force currently spends several days a month shuffling through vendors’ log books, looking for patterns. (Harpole was arrested for purchases in Vermillion County, not Vigo.) Skinner has introduced legislation to improve the state law. First, merchants will be required to submit purchase information electronically to a statewide data base. Nope, don’t see any potential for abuse there. Secondly, retailers will be required to post notice of the purchase limits at the point of sale. And finally, because we don’t want to clog the books with unhelpful regulations, law enforcement will please to inform the legislature on whether they find the pseudo-Fed law helpful to their efforts to combat the meth drug trade. Or whether they’d prefer to go back to needing evidence of illegal drug production before making an arrest.
Oy gevalt, now The Free Agent has a headache as well as a stuffy nose. But she’s wary of the junior G-men over at CVS, so maybe she’ll just pop down to the corner and buy some weed.