Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) yesterday introduced a bill, dubbed the Combat Meth Act, that would allow sales of remedies containing pseudoephedrine only in pharmacies, require that they be kept behind the pharmacist's counter, force buyers to present ID and sign a registry, and limit purchases to nine grams (about a dozen 24-packs of Sudafed) a month. The restrictions, similar to rules enforced in Oklahoma, are aimed at limiting black-market chemists' access to pseudoephedrine, a methamphetamine precursor. But as I pointed out in the January issue of Reason, the Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 80 percent of illicit meth consumed in the U.S. is produced by Mexican traffickers who buy pseudoephedrine in bulk, not a few packs at a time at the local 7-Eleven. In any case, methamphetamine can be produced in several ways that do not require pseudoephedrine, which Feinstein misleadingly calls a "key ingredient used to make meth." A co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), goes further, mistakenly describing pseudoephedrine as "a necessary ingredient to make meth."
The restrictions, in other words, are not likely to have a noticeable, lasting impact on methamphetamine consumption. But they will certainly be a big pain in the ass for cold and allergy sufferers. Implicitly acknowledging the problem, the bill includes "a hardship provision" that allows pharmacy-poor communities to beg the DEA for permission to buy cold and allergy pills in a convenience store.