The Real Breaking Bad: How the Drug War Creates Collateral Damage

88-year-old Bob Wallace, and his 85-year-old girlfriend, Marjorie Ottenberg fell in love 35 years ago backpacking to the tops of the highest peaks in the world.

Wallace is a Stanford educated engineer and Ottenberg is a former chemist and decades ago they came up with a water purification product for backpackers like themselves called Polar Pure out of their garage in Saratoga, Calif.

“For an old guy with nothing else to do, this is something that keeps us occupied,” says Wallace.

Today, Wallace and Ottenberg are fighting the Drug Enforcement Administration and state officials to continue to operate their business. Why? The DEA says that drug dealers are using their product to make methamphetamine.

The DEA says meth heads are interested in Polar Pure’s key ingredient, iodine crystals.

In 2007 the DEA reclassified iodine as a controlled substance and named Polar Pure in particular as a product that was of concern to the DEA. The DEA told Wallace and Ottenberg, they could continue to operate their business but they would have to pay a $1,200 regulatory fee, register with the state and feds, report any suspicious activity and keep track of each and ever person who bought a bottle of their product.

Bob says that the overhead alone would be too much to pass onto customers.

“So that’s why I didn’t bother with their rules, because I would be out of business if I followed their regulations,” says Wallace.

The same went for camping stores and online outlets that stocked Polar Pure. Instead of dealing with the new regulations they just dropped the product, effectively killing Wallace and Ottenberg's business.

“Any time you deal with a government it’s a hassle,” says Ottenberg.

A spokeswoman for the DEA told the San Jose Mercury News that Wallace was “collateral damage.”

“They are being put out of business, they are totally being put out of business,” says Stephen Downing, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Downing says that that the DEA is the most out of control arm of the federal government today because they are given so much authority with very little oversight.

“Within the controlled substances act, the DEA is given authority chemicals as they come up,” says Downing. “To make it easy for federal enforcement people to so called, do their job and make their quotas and have their show-and-tells, they pass these regulations that impact innocent people.”

Downing also says that the metrics for stopping use and production of methamphetamine don’t make sense.

The Justice Department’s own National Drug Threat Assessment for 2011 said that the availability of methamphetamine was increasing in every region of the country and the rates of abuse were increasing as well.

About 6:47 minutes.

Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Field produced by Zach Weismuller and Sharif Matar.

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  • wareagle||

    The DEA says that drug dealers are using their product to make methamphetamine.

    by this calculus, anything can be deemed illegal. Say someone uses table salt or sugar for making some illicit substance. Do salt and sugar also become illegal (excepting certain jurisdictions where at least one of those is under fire)?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Water is a common solvent in chemical lab operations, as well as a hydrating agent for drug plants. It needs to be strictly regulated.

  • daveInAustin||

    Don't laugh, people have been investigated based on the probably cause of using too much electricity or using too many plastic bags. Water and baking soda might be next. Of course, the attack on pseudoephedrine has caught mothers with large and stiffly families. Think of all the kids the policies have helped, just don't think of the lack of any evidence that it helps.

  • daveInAustin||

    There is clear evidence that these regulations do harm and clearly tax dollars are going into creating and enforcing this regulation. Where's the evidence that this regulation does a damn thing to stop meth consumption? Of course, if every government program went through this analysis, we would have a much smaller government.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Arm & Hammer, it's your fault that people smoke crack! The DEA's comin' for you!

  • WTF||

    Nah, Arm & Hammer can afford the lobbyists to grease the right palms.

  • granite state destroyer||

    Exactly. That's a major problem with regulations like this. Large corporations actually like regulations - the expense they have to pay to comply is manageable when you are big enough but it prevents competition from developing. This is why big business is perfectly happy to keep the drug war going.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Downing says that that the DEA is the most out of control arm of the federal government today because they are given so much authority with very little oversight.

    So the agency that has a leader who want to emulate the Roman Empire by "crucifying" random people to terrorize a business community is only the second or third worst part of the federal government.

    Is this a great country or what?

  • Almanian...still||

    In Soviet Russia, country grates on YOU!

  • tarran||

    Dude, the EPA has to abide by a legal mechanism that allows people to sue it.

    The DEA is allowed to interfere in local elections and lie to the public. There is no mechanism to sue them.

    Yes, it's a bit silly to waste energy debating on which organization is more craptacular, but the guy can make a pretty powerful case.

  • gigarath6||

    I agree that it is pointless, but when was the last time EPA agents stormed into a house with M16s and tear gas?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Oh, hell. The way SWAT tactics are overused and obscure government agencies are armed, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it was last Tuesday.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Not disagreeing that the DEA, or any other LEA is worse. Just observing how fucked we are when a bureaucrat planning to crucify random people to terrorize the public doesn't even make the top ten list of government abuses.

  • Almanian...still||

    How the Drug War Creates Collateral Damage

    Nothing "collateral" about it - it's inherent in the thing. As Chrissie Hynde said, "When you own a big chunk of the bloody third world, the babies just come with the scenery."

    Same with wars on drugs and dead bodies of "non combatants", loss of freedom, increase in the power of gummint...FURTHER loss of freedom...etc.

  • niobiumstudio||

    This has got to be the first time an "Essential for Life" ELEMENT has been outlawed and regulated... I bet it would just work out best for us all if they simply banned it...period...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine

  • fried wylie||

    I'm most pissed off because I didn't find out about solar-pumped iodine lasers until this reclassification was already in place.

  • Pip||

    "88-year-old Bob Wallace, and his 85-year-old girlfriend, Marjorie Ottenberg fell in love 35 years ago backpacking to the tops of the highest peaks in the world."

    Jesus, Bob, man up and make an honest woman out of her.

  • Nicholas Card||

    It's because they don't see any need for a government to officially recognize their relationship. They are what they are, and that's none of the government's business.

  • Peter L||

    "Anytime you deal with a government it's a hassle"

    Like having to get a marriage liscence.

  • Pip||

    "Any time you deal with a government it's a hassle"

    That should be on the dollar bill.

  • Nicholas Card||

    I like "E Ordinatio Problemata" myself.

  • ||

    In 2007 the DEA reclassified iodine as a controlled substance...

    Eh? How is this even possible? It's one of the fundamental chemical elements, for fuck's sake! My mind cannot take the idiocy.

  • sarcasmic||

    Table salt? Iodophor sanitizer? I'm confused.

  • Nicholas Card||

    Exactly. The worst part is that anyone who's that intent on making Meth could easily extract the iodine from salt or hand sanitizer.

    All this ban on iodine does is increase the complexity of making meth, which directly correlates with impurities in the final product. And many studies show that certain impurities can increase the potency of side effects by 100 fold or more.

    If we treated illegal drugs like pharmaceutical drugs, and regulated them for purity, we could mitigate a lot of the debilitating side effects that are the corner stones of why we "need" the drug war.

  • Robert||

    If their site is up to date, Polar Pure's current problem is not with DEA, but with Calif., the state having denied their most recent permit appl'n.

    Having to guess because they don't say, presumably Polar Pure is going for exempt status, which would be granted on an agency judgment that their product is so packaged as to make the I2 xtals too difficult to remove to be worthwhile.

  • David_TheMan||

    Ridiculous, but what can you expect from the USSA.

  • joy||

    To make it easy for federal enforcement people to so called, do their job and make their quotas and have their show-and-tells, http://www.nikewinkel.com/scho.....-c-46.html they pass these regulations that impact innocent people.

  • Dan Richeson||

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