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


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.]