Drug Policy

Put Down the Cold Pills, Grandma, and Come Out With Your Hands Up

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A few months ago, Sally Harpold bought a box of Zyrtec-D allergy medicine for her husband at a pharmacy in Rockville, Indiana. Less than a week later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a drugstore in Clinton. Isn't it sad that you already know where this story is headed?

Early on the morning of July 30, Harpold and her husband were awakened by police banging on the door of their home.  The officers hauled her away in handcuffs, charging the "grandmother of triplets" (the Terre Haute Tribune-Star's descriptor) with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. Harpold's mug shot appeared on the front page of the local paper, under the headline "17 Arrested in Drug Sweep." Her crime: buying more than three grams of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that also happens to be a methamphetamine precursor, in a seven-day period. She was six-tenths of a gram over the legal limit in Indiana, which is much stingier than the maximum allowed by federal law  (3.6 grams a day, nine grams a month). Harpold was not aware of the state limit, but as the Tribune-Review notes, "ignorance of the law is no excuse."

Marvel at the justification offered by Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel:

Sometimes mistakes happen. It's unfortunate. But for the good of everyone, the law was put into effect.

I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother… 

Note that the "mistakes" to which Marvel alludes do not involve arresting harmless grandmothers for innocuous purchases; they involve failing to keep track of exactly how much pseudoephedrine you're buying, lest you exceed the arbitrary ceiling established by anti-drug hysterics in the state capital. Also note Marvel's attempt to feed the meth-baby myth. Finally, there is no evidence to support his implication that arresting people for buying one box too many of decongestant pills reduces meth consumption. That does not mean the pseudoephedrine crackdown has not accomplished anything: It has increased business for Mexican meth traffickers, and it has driven explosive innovation in manufacturing techniques.

More on pseudoephedrine limits here

Update: As a commenter notes, Radley Balko blogged this story on Monday, when I was busy apologizing for a year's worth of sins. Next year I should add "for the sin I committed in failing to keep abreast of the blog."

[Thanks to Mark Lambert for the tip.]

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  1. Pssst. Jacob…. Radley blogged about this a couple of days ago.

    It does, still, remain just as ridiculous and indefensible. I also hope she sues the newspaper for defaming her.

  2. OMG, Michael Jackson died!

  3. Radley blogged about this a couple of days ago.

    FWIW, the post in question is here.

  4. “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

    And this is the phrase that pisses me off the quickest. Laws are written in verbose and incomprehensible language and at a rate where no person can keep up with everything. Hell, even lawyers have a hard time keeping up with every aspect of the law they specialize it…and that’s their jobs.

    Instead, they create so many laws that it’s impossible not to be ignorant of some law and eventually run afoul of it. Then, you’re a criminal with no real defense because they’ve already decided that it’s not “an excuse”. Especially something as innocuous as buying cold medicine.

    And yet, a cop can be ignorant of a law such as where a person can legally carry a firearm and throw you to the ground because of your lawfully carried firearm and that’s excusable. After all, they can’t keep up with the laws (despite it being part of their job since they enforce them), but you and I are expected to.

    Yeah, we’re fucked as a people.

  5. Sometimes mistakes happen. It’s unfortunate. But for the good of everyone, the law was put into effect.

    Hey you unthinking mental slug, please give me a list of the people this fucking fiasco of legislation and enforcement was good for.

    Goddam, did they suck out some of your cerebrum at cop school or were you always that deficient upstairs?
    __________________________________________________________________
    Just wait till one of his minions violates somebody’s rights. Ya think “the law” will be “put in effect” then?

  6. In fairness,

    the prosecutor did offer her a deal of paying court costs (no fine) and a 30 day probation period where if she violates no laws, it all goes away.

    Pretty sweet deal for the cold medicine scofflaw, right?!

    Way to use the prosecutorial discretion

  7. Hey, I wonder how this grandma feels about the state of Indiana having a monopoly on the administration of justice in Hoosierland.

  8. any chemists/pharmacists know how much meth can be made from a bottle of Zyrtec and a bottle of Mucinex? that is something i’ve been dying to know since first hearing about this.
    also, i wonder if that 3.6 grams is of pseudoephedrine or just of the pills containing pse? from what i know of the two drugs in question, pse doesn’t seem to be the main active ingredient in either.

  9. At least this won’t ever happen in California. Police there have way more time on their hands and will certainly use it double-checking themselves.

  10. Wow thats pretty messed up dude its like WTF

    RT
    http://www.total-privacy.net.tc

  11. Ignorance of stupid laws is a perfectly good excuse.

    Retards.

  12. Ahahahaaaaaahaaaa! And we think Medical Marijuana is the panacea of progressive drug policy.

    We’ve got SWAT raids for people buying Zyrtec, for chrissakes!

    Meter on my bet’s still running.

  13. “I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother… ”

    Oh yeah, thank you for arresting me, I now see the error of my ways. Its my fault because I purchased a perfectly fucking legal product and used it for legal purposes.

    Shit is like the reverse of “Chewbacca lives on Endor”.

  14. I’m waiting for Juanita – or a passable imitation, at least – to weigh in on the subject.

  15. when I was busy apologizing for a year’s worth of sins

    And this is why i need to make sure all my favorite columnists are either non-observant or atheists.

    Left us jonsin’ Jaccy, we need it bad baby.

  16. I’m waiting for Juanita – or a passable imitation, at least

    Juanita is an imitation.

  17. As a commenter notes, Radley Balko blogged this story on Monday, when I was busy apologizing for a year’s worth of sins.

    So, Monday was a busy day, Jacob?

  18. Update: As a commenter notes, Radley Balko blogged this story on Monday

    This story is so f*cking stupid it deserves to be told twice.

    Indiana actually has a Libertarian party that’s somewhat on the ball, I hope they’re trying to point out the stupidity of this to the press.

  19. I hope they’re trying to point out the stupidity of this to the press.

    *rubbing temples*

    I know what the response is going to be, but I’m going to ask it anyway: Why would the stupidity of this have to be pointed out to the press? Shouldn’t the press realize the stupidity of this story, like, y’know, all on their own?

  20. Indiana’s laws on this stuff are particularly strict. I was visiting family in the state last Christmas, and since I was going to the drugstore anyway, my mother asked me to get her a box of cold medicine. It was kept behind the pharmacists’ counter, and I had to hand over my driver’s license and wait for 10 minutes while the pharmacist got a supervisor who entered me into a state database. Ridiculous.

  21. I’m waiting for Juanita – or a passable imitation, at least – to weigh in on the subject.

    It looks like she did comment in the earlier thread.

  22. “how much meth can be made from a bottle of Zyrtec and a bottle of Mucinex?”

    If you could carry out the reaction with 100% efficiency, you could theoretically get about 80% of the original mass of pseudoephedrine in amphetamine (this is just the ratios of the molar masses of the molecules).

    I don’t know how much meth is in a “dose” and I don’t know how much peudoephedrine is in a bottle of cold pills… but with that, you could get a theoretical yield… then you’d need to figure out how efficient your process is.

  23. Why is this person described as a “grandmother”?

    Would a grandmother be any less suspect than any other person, regardless of reproductive success or failure?

  24. where’s walt from breaking bad when you need him

  25. It would’ve been particularly dumb for her to have asked for a jury trial as suggested in a previous thread. If it’d gone to trial, she’d’ve had a much better chance with a judge.

  26. Fortunately, Sheriff Jon Marvel has to run for reelection. Unfortunately, most voters will not hold an armed attack on a peaceful citizen against him on election day.

    Prosecutorial discretion? How about some police discretion, like not arresting someone for buying two boxes of cold medicine in a week? I don’t think the law should even exist, but if it does, how about waiting for someone to show a continued pattern before hauling them away in irons?

  27. Would a grandmother be any less suspect than any other person, regardless of reproductive success or failure?

    Same reason “Union worker” is automatically downtrodden, abused, underpaid and ‘working class’.

  28. Harpold said she did go talk to the prosecutor about the situation, and Alexander offered her the deferral program, in which Harpold is required to pay the court costs, abide by all laws and not be arrested for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, the class-C misdemeanor will be erased from her record.

    Aww, the prosecutor is all heart. It’s time to resist this shit.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFS7oZtE8Ks

  29. Isn’t it sad that you already know where this story is headed?

    Her dog gets shot by the cops?

  30. “As a commenter notes, Radley Balko blogged this story on Monday, when I was busy apologizing for a year’s worth of sins. Next year I should add ‘for the sin I committed in failing to keep abreast of the blog.'”

    Jacob,

    Even an apostate knows that Yom Kippur is for the atonement of sins against Adonai. While Elohim does care about sins against the readers of Hit and Run, you must seek the forgiveness of the readers, not that of G-d.

    I for one, forgive you. May your name be written in the Book of Life.

  31. Does anyone know why they’re breaking into people’s houses in the early morning for buying cold medicine? Even if this woman was a suspect who actually fit the bill, why are you SO STUPID to go in that time?!!? It’s not like you can dispose of the meth lab in the toilet within the few minutes it takes to knock in the early afternoon.

  32. Apostate Jew:

    Did you get your yarmulke knocked off in a shoving match at Hebrew School?

  33. no one would use zyrtec or mucinex to get pseudoephedrine, that would require an extra extraction process. real cooks buy psuedoephedrine in bulk. you can also buy 100 count bottles of pseudoephedrine behind the counter for like $2 or 3. you get put on a database but the quantities allowed in my state are generous enough that a couple people could buy a legal quantity and get a decent amount. methcathinone is another stimulant that is even easier to synthesize from pseudoephedrine. they can do whatever they want to try and restrict cold meds, it isn’t going to do shit. there are so many ways to make meth using different precursors. they will always have the ephedra plant as a source.

  34. Apostate Jew: If you’re an apostate, why should he give a shit if you forgive him? Also, is he really going to trust your religious advice?

    Shouldn’t the press realize the stupidity of this story, like, y’know, all on their own?

    Yep, they sure should. … *crickets*

  35. Stupid no-blockquote tag upgrade.

    Also, Hacha Cha, I was browsing the other night and came across a Chinese herb sales website. They had a list of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs (ginseng, et.al.).

    As I scrolled down, I noticed they had a picture for “ma huang” which was now grayed out with a large note in red “not for sale”. Apparently, someone at the DEA had been in touch with them.

  36. How about some police discretion, like not arresting someone for buying two boxes of cold medicine in a week? I don’t think the law should even exist, but if it does, how about waiting for someone to show a continued pattern before hauling them away in irons?

    What about someone with chronic allergies? How about a pattern of buying, and actual evidence of illegal use.

    1. Exactly! I need Zyrtec-D twice a day 7 days a week (and no, the newer stuff does nothing for me, it’s too weak) and so does my daughter; from me, she has inherited many allergies. But guess what? Because of this stupid, invasive, interfering law, I’m not even ALLOWED to buy it for her!!! CVS told me she must have a driver’s license and she is too young to drive, yet she still has allergies! (And Zyrtec-D is approved for children under 12 years old – what do those parents do?!) I even tried giving them her high school ID & they said the computer only accepts driver’s licenses. (And what if you’re older and don’t drive any more? You’re not allowed to breathe then either?) I’m the worst case and can’t sleep at night because my breathing is so bad, and I’m only allowed to buy 24 pills at a time, which means I have to go the freaking pharmacy every 12 DAYS! If the government is so smart as to know how many meth labs there are and where they are, then why don’t they just go arrest the people at the METH labs instead of punishing sick people & denying us the right to BREATHE?!! GRRRR!!! Anyone know who I can call or email to even start to change this $#&*^@!! stupid law?

  37. “I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother… “

    Ok, and how does her buying .6 grams too much in a week, and using it for it’s legal, intended purpose, have anything to do with that?

  38. “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

    And how is it even humanly possible to know all of the several hundred thousand pages of federal, state and local laws, most of it written in “lawyerese” that only a lawyer could understand, much of it only an outline for the hundreds of thousands of pages from regulatory agencies, most of which is intentionally vague, requiring you to also know millions of pages of case law and regulatory court case law, most of it dealing with fairly innocuous, not obviously wrong, i.e. mallum prohibitum conduct, most of which is strict liability i.e with no mens rea requirement, only an unintentional violation of statute required for conviction.

  39. yeah the FDA threw a fit a few years back but ephedra is legal again, especially as a chinese medicine, but it is not to be used for weight loss. there are so many species in the Ephedra genus that there is no way they could ban even real ephedra if they wanted to. they all contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

  40. one example of a different species of ephedra is Death Valley Ephedra also known as Mormon Tea. funny thing a friend of mine who sells plant extracts said to be careful selling ephedra tinctures as it might be considered precursor material for methamphetamine, whether or not anyone ever used it as a precursor.

  41. If it were me getting arrested, I’d probably be so steamed about the whole damn thing I’d tell the prosecutor to shove that deal up his ass. But that’s the problem: most of us have lives to live and other stuff to do; the prosecutor doesn’t. It’s no skin off his nose if you choose to fight.

  42. She broke the law and got punished, big deal, the law’s the law. All states make their laws available both online and in the library, she should have known the law and obeyed it. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    1. uh no all states don’t make their laws available to the public via internet and libraries. like PA for instance.

  43. On the upside, at least the incident didn’t include a no-knock warrant served by a SWAT team bearing fully automatic weapons. And firing them.

    You know, like they do in GA.

  44. The ignorance *in* the law is no excuse, either.

  45. Nothing but more government drug fabrications.

  46. While I show my Drivers License and sign to buy Sudafed my next door neighbor unloads from his truck, in broad daylight, a large bundle of plastic wrapped “red pills”. Also other pills and chemicals used to make Meth. We have been breathing the toxic fumes for over one year. The local police PROTECT the Drug Dealers. The DEA has done nothing. I think because the local police discredit me by saying I am just some crazy guy that has a grudge against our neighbors.

  47. Law Enforcement Against Prohibtion volunteers needed
    http://bbvm.wordpress.com/2009…..rs-needed/

    The Case for Legalising All Drugs Is Unanswerable
    http://bbvm.wordpress.com/2009…..nswerable/

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