Meth Microbrewers Make Iron Eyes Cody Cry


The New York Times reports that meth lab seizures, which fell by 58 percent between 2003 and 2006 as restrictions on retail sales of pseudoepehdrine shifted production from local mom-and-pop labs to big Mexican manufacturers, rose by 15 percent between 2007 and 2008 as the "shake and bake" method caught on. The new, less complicated process, which the Associated Press noted last August, involves a soda bottle, common household chemicals, and allergy pills purchased by "smurfers" who make the rounds of drugstores, buying small quantities so as not to attract police attention. It does not require a lot of pseudoephedrine, and it can be accomplished on your couch or in your car. Police in Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, and Tennessee report that they frequently find remains of meth brewing kits on roadsides.

The restrictions on pseudoephedrine, which make it such a pain in the ass to get allergy relief and occasionally result in raids on innocent grandmothers, seem to have driven meth production in two directions: toward large-scale manufacturing by Mexican traffickers and toward microbatches cooked up by meth users and their friends. It's debatable whether this is an improvement, especially given the toxic litter, the special hazards of close-in cooking, and the lack of evidence that the limits on pseudoephedrine have had any impact on meth consumption (which has been falling since the late 1990s). But legislators who were sure they could stamp out meth use by putting allergy pills behind the counter, limiting sales, and making buyers sign a registry are eager to try more onerous restrictions, such as making pseudoephedrine available only by prescription.

I noted the pseudoephedrine crackdown's effectiveness at fostering innovation in meth manufacturing in the January issue of Reason. More on the subject here.