Another Glorious Drug War Victory

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

DEA shuts down mom n’ pop business because some meth dealers use its otherwise perfectly legal product.

Eighty-eight-year-old retired metallurgist Bob Wallace is a self-described tinkerer, but he hardly thinks of himself as the Thomas Edison of the illegal drug world.

He has nothing to hide. His product is packaged by hand in a cluttered Saratoga garage. It’s stored in a garden shed in the backyard. The whole operation is guarded by an aged, congenial dog named Buddy.

But federal and state drug enforcement agents are coming down hard on Wallace’s humble homemade solution, which he concocted to help backpackers purify water.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and state regulators say druggies can use the single ingredient in his “Polar Pure” water purifier — iodine — to make crystal meth.

Wallace says federal and state agents have effectively put him out of business, because authorities won’t clear the way for him to buy or sell the iodine he needs for his purification bottles. He has been rejected for a state permit by the Department of Justice and is scheduled to appeal his case before an administrative judge in Sacramento next month.

Meanwhile, the exasperated Stanford University-educated engineer and his 85-year-old girlfriend said the government — in its zeal to clamp down on meth labs — has instead stopped hikers, flood victims and others from protecting themselves against a bad case of the runs.

We’re seeing more and more of this. Not content with merely criminalizing consensual behavior, the government involuntarily deputizes private actors to enforce these laws—and also forces them to bear the costs. Don’t comply, and you could lose your business. If they can’t get you with licensing laws, they’ll get you with asset forfeiture. Hell, in some instances they’ll try to throw you in prison for not being a vigilant enough citizen-cop.

Here, they manage to put a small business under, stifle innovation, and prevent consumers from buying a useful product, all in one blow. And the DEA’s infuriating response? “Collateral damage.”

“Methamphetamine is an insidious drug that causes enormous collateral damage,” wrote Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman. “If Mr. Wallace is no longer in business he has perhaps become part of that collateral damage, for it was not a result of DEA regulations, but rather the selfish actions of criminal opportunists. Individuals that readily sacrifice human lives for money.”

On a lighter note, I think I’d like to have a drink with this guy.

“This old couple, barely surviving old farts, and we’re supposed to be meth dealers? This is just plain stupid,” Wallace said, as he sat in the nerve center of his not-so-clandestine compound surrounded by contoured hiking maps, periodic tables and the prototypes of metal snowshoes he invented a few years ago. “These are the same knotheads that make you take your shoes off in the airport.”…

For Wallace to comply, the state Department of Justice fingerprinted the couple and told Wallace he needed to show them such things as a solid security system for his product. Wallace sent a photograph of Buddy sitting on the front porch.

“These guys don’t go for my humor,” Wallace said. “Cops are the most humorless knotheads on the planet.” Even so, Marco Campagna, Wallace’s lawyer, promised to strengthen security and make other improvements to allay the government’s concerns.

Wallace is not against regulation per se, although he thinks the demand for a customer list is an invasion of privacy and a waste of time…

It’s not so much the financial hardship, Wallace said. It’s the irritation of being prevented by what he calls an over-restrictive government to do whatever his restless mind wants to do.

“What the (expletive) else am I going to do? I’m 88!” he said. “We have to do something.”

Link via Boing Boing.

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51 Responses to “Another Glorious Drug War Victory”

  1. #1 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    It’s gotten to the point where I’m convinced DEA and other runaway
    gov’t agencies aren’t really worried about “crime” but rather
    just like fucking with people.
    I’m surprised people aren’t taking to the streets and living in tents in public arenas in protest.
    Oh, wait.

  2. #2 |  David | 

    Iodine is contraband now?! You’re shitting me, right?

  3. #3 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    Vinegar and baking soda are next.

  4. #4 |  Bob | 

    Jesus christ! Iodine? For fuck’s sake!

    Another chemical compound used in the manufacture of not only Methanphetamine, but Cocaine and Marijuana is Dihydrogen Monoxide.

    This compound is so critical in the production of these drugs that fully banning it would result in the complete cessation of all drug production everywhere.

    Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide Now! For the children! And the puppies! Even for all the cute little kittens!

  5. #5 |  Eric Hanneken | 

    Bob: No doubt those meth manufacturers are also using carbon. I hope the DEA is looking into regulating that.

  6. #6 |  GregS | 

    “Collateral damage” is an underhanded term that is used to smuggle into the public mind the notion that it is acceptable for the authorities to destroy the property and lives of innocent people, as long as that damage is an unintended side effect of an otherwise legitimate act of law enforcement or military action. Not only does it encourage the public to come to accept that, I also suspect it leads the authorities themselves to become less careful about preventing accidental harm to the innocent because they too come to see collateral damage as something acceptable.

  7. #7 |  drkrick | 

    “Individuals that readily sacrifice human lives for money.”

    Just to be clear – the DEA spokesperson thinks she’s describing someone other than her own agency there? Because I don’t think she is.

  8. #8 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Iodine. Not content to outlaw a plant nearly as common and hard to kill as dandelion, the Drug Warriors now want to clamp down on an Element found in seawater, which is necessary for human health.


  9. #9 |  Joshua | 

    Note to the DEA: when you directly go after somebody and destroy their business, you don’t get to call that “collateral damage”. Collateral damage would be if a hiker catches of giardia because they don’t have the product that these people sell.

  10. #10 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Causing unemployment is a primary function of government.


  11. #11 |  Jean | 

    Aw man, Polar Pure is the BEST. And it contains only a teaspoon of iodine in each (virtually unbreakable) glass jar. (Seriously, mine has survived a 15 foot drop onto rock unscathed.) And the iodine is pretty well locked inside the jar.

    So some meth dealer is going to buy thousands of these jars, smash them open, then pick the iodine crystals out of the shards of brown glass… Really?

  12. #12 |  Marty | 

    this makes me think the shortages in Russia and Eastern Europe weren’t just because of economics.

  13. #13 |  Mike Schilling | 

    I’m surprised the DEA didn’t confiscate his periodic tables. They contain “Iodine” too.

  14. #14 |  anoNY | 

    Back when I was in the Army, my unit gave me free iodine tablets. I would have loved to have seen the DEA try to come and take them from us..

  15. #15 |  Dante | 

    When, oh, when can We The People inflict budgetary “collateral damage” upon the DEA?

    Seriously – America is broke, the DEA sits at the head of the greatest failure in our history, they cost us Billions annually, they violate the Constitution, our laws and our international treaties – why can’t we cut them? This is so obvious. This would be a great solution. This would save America, and America lives.

    Why isn’t Congress cutting them? Why isn’t Congress saving America?

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)
    It’s not just the cops who are dirty anymore. It’s our whole government.

  16. #16 |  dsmallwood | 

    love it. love this forum too.

    printing a-holery like this births a hundred more libertarians.

    and a thousand more bureaucrats empowered to crush them.

    “If Mr. Wallace is no longer in business he has perhaps become part of that collateral damage, for it was not a result of DEA regulations, but rather the selfish actions of criminal opportunists. Individuals that readily sacrifice human lives for money.”

    what an a-hole

  17. #17 |  GaryM | 

    This is public choice theory in action. The DEA wants to maximize its base of activity, which consists of banning things. The more it can ban, the bigger the budget it can get. This agency is unusual only in the extent to which it’s willing to stomp on human lives for the sake of money.

  18. #18 |  Dusty | 

    Dihydrogen Monoxide is DANGEROUS!!! It kills tens of thousands world wide, destroys crops and property … I think it should be banned or we can just ELIMINATE the Government tyranny descending on us. If only there was a Presidential Candidate that could ‘get the job done’ … Oh, that’s right.

    Raiding organic farms, destroying picnics, demonizing raw milk, outlawing wood stoves, doubling the price of coal, allowing oil barons to fleece us all, bogus safety and emission standards on cars, lawn mowers, weed whackers, fabricated ‘Global Warming’ scams … these guys NEVER let up they date rape you @ the airport, bus terminals, train stations NOW the highways, sports stadiums, the mall, even SENIOR proms!!! All the while allowing big banks to destroy us financially and the big pharma gets to kill hundreds of thousands a year? Give vaccine protections to them too, so if your kid has to wear a helmet, you are on your own!!! Ridiculous we ALL have to WAKE UP … it’s NOT too late!!!

  19. #19 |  Brandon | 

    Yiz, the people in the tents protesting, according to their various manifestos, want to give government agencies like this more power. You know, because giving government more power will make life more “fair.”

  20. #20 |  FloO | 

    “Did you really think we want those laws observed?…There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system…” Atlas Shrugged 1957

  21. #21 |  Roho | 

    “Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs! Can’t make pancakes, either. Fried egg special goes without saying. French toast? Very eggy. And the skillet; yeah, plenty of eggs to be broken there, too.

    I guess what we’re getting at is no matter what you ordered, we’re gonna find a way to break some eggs. We like doing it. We’re good at it.

    Can I freshen your egg coffee?”

  22. #22 |  fwb | 

    Since the Drug War just about every chemical is “listed”. Made my research and teaching as a chem prof hell.

    Now, I will ask once more. Why do Article I, Section 8, Pragraphs 6, 8, & 10 exist? These grant some police powers to the federal government in certain specific areas. If the fed has blanket police power under the other clauses, are not these grants wholly unnecessary? Does not the interpretation that the feds have authority to enforce things directly imply that the Framers were idiots who didn’t understand the Constitution and the grants of power under the doctrine of incidental powers? Or maybe, just maybe, the feds and the courts today are wrong because they are tyrants.

    The existence of Article I, Section 8, Paragraphs 6, 8, & 10 and Article III, Section 3 (treason) provide all the evidence needed to prove that 99.99% of all federal criminal code is unconstitutional. The problem is the feds have the bigger guns and the People are just feckin stupid.

  23. #23 |  Two from Balko | Random Nuclear Strikes | 

    […] up, for us outdoorsy types, seems Iodine is now verboten because Meth heads use it to make Meth.  So your iodine tabs for killing bacteria in water while […]

  24. #24 |  KBCraig | 

    Heisenberg would know what to do.

  25. #25 |  nrasmuss13 | 

    Well, at least we’re winning the War On Drugs!

  26. #26 |  Ted S. | 

    I’d have guessed Heisenberg would be uncertain about what to do.

  27. #27 |  BamBam | 

    Atlas Shrugged. Go Galt.

  28. #28 |  Lucy Steigerwald | 

    Obligatory am a pacifist don’t condone the action, but Timothy McVeigh really is the ultimate “I learned it from watching you!!” re government — collateral damage as magical excuse and all.

    Here’s to insane shit like this leading to a few million libertarians, instead of terrorists.

  29. #29 |  David | 

    Go Galt.

    What is “going Galt” in a situation where the government apparently wants people to stop making things that other people want?

  30. #30 |  Concerned Citizen | 

    They don’t want us to be self sufficient. We will have to depend on the Government for everything. They will win to. OWS is the best we have and they are calling for more Government regulations.

  31. #31 |  Matt Goldey | 

    What’s counterintuitive is that they shut him down for the drug war and not for the fact that you can make a contact explosive out of iodide. If anything, I expected it would be our cultural hyper-vigilance about anything fun that destroyed his business.

    Mind you, all the contact explosive is good for is coating a yard before a rainstorm and waiting for the raindrops to set it off where they hit.

    Not that I mess around with this myself, having no yard, protective gear, or wish to stain myself and everything I own yellow.

  32. #32 |  Doubleu | 

    but but but “If it saves one life….”

  33. #33 |  Bee | 

    Wow, Matt Goldey, my eyes just lit up with joy at that image. Must investigate further. =)

    And Radley is right, this guy is a hoot. I’m going to have to remember “knothead”.

  34. #34 |  divadab | 

    The Federal Govt has been in restraint of trade since prohibition. This one failed, so they took another kick at the cat with Cannabis prohibition.

    And the whole apparatus is corrupt – including the Supreme Court. Consider Wickard v. Fillburn, and more recently Raich v. GOnzalez. Obscene Constitutional overreach in the service of unjust dominion.

    I hope the system doesn;t have to collapse to wipe these fascist scum out of power. They are killing the goose that laid the golden egg and turning this country into East Germany.

  35. #35 |  RobertELegal | 

    This drug war is quickly becoming a Monty Python movie. The DEA clowns are basically saying that they have to ruin people’s lives to prevent people from ruining their lives.
    This country is becoming more and more populated with cruel, intolerant and downright stupid assholes.

  36. #36 |  CyniCAl | 

    Who’s ready for anarchy?

    I am!!!

  37. #37 |  Over the River | 

    What else is used in the manufacturing of meth? Let’s see: brake cleaner, ammonia, soda bottles, kitty litter, lithium batteries, engine starter, matches, maybe water, electricity.

    Have at the DEA, don’t let them hold up the War on Drugs.

  38. #38 |  At the Mountains of Madness | 

    The regulation is both onerous and completely ineffective at the stated purpose, see

    “When we finished the manuscript of this book, iodine crystals, which are used in some of the lab sessions, were freely available. Subsequently, the DEA rescheduled iodine crystals as a List I chemical, which means you now need to fill out paperwork and provide identification to order iodine. Fortunately, it’s easy to isolate elemental iodine from potassium iodide, instructions for doing which are in this document. Isolating Elemental Iodine from Potassium Iodide”

  39. #39 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    @#19 “…the people in the tents protesting, according to their various manifestos, want to give government agencies like this more power.”

    Really, Brandon, do you really think the average Occupy protester wants to increase government power for abusive government agencies like the DEA? Really?

    In my contact with Occupy protesters, most have come off as more libertarian than not, reserving their regulatory support for measures to rein in the predatory, politically-connected industries that have fucked over our country while being subsidized/bailed out with taxpayer dollars.

  40. #40 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Jeebus, another freakout about meth. We’re supposed to believe that the tightening grip of a police state will eliminate drug production. We’re expected to obsequiously jump through hoops to obtain over-the-counter medications and benign stock chemicals, all because our submission to these intrusions will stop chemists from synthesizing illicit drugs.

    Bollocks. Drug producers and traffickers are far too adept to be foiled by anything of the sort. So far, we’ve seen meth producers evade pseudephedrine registries by smuggling truckloads of pseudephedrine tablets across the border from Canada and expelling them from their packaging on underground assembly lines, set up every sort of gnarly home meth lab imaginable, and evade crackdowns on home production with mobile “shake-and-bake” labs in soda bottles. We’ve also seen a whole shitload of finished meth, along with other drugs, imported from Mexico by every conceivable conveyance and then some, lately including amateur subway lines under our jealously guarded fence in Otay Mesa.

    We can convince the methamphetamine community to adapt to our crackdowns in foolhardy and dangerous ways, but we can’t outfox them. Lately, they’ve been corrupting our border guards, too, which is to be expected for such a high-value black market commodity. Practically the same thing happened at a higher level with heroin in Singapore, a nasty little bastion of feudal common law that routinely hangs harmless traffickers like Shanmugam Murugesu and Van Tuong Nguyen, but almost certainly turned a blind eye to the importation of Burmese heroin by the container load at its ports because these shipments were orchestrated by a dubious partnership of high ruling party officials in Singapore and Burmese junta officials. If illicit drugs can’t be kept out of a deranged police state like Singapore, there’s no way in hell that they’ll be kept out of the United States, where a substantially larger percentage of the populace gives a flying fuck about its human and civil rights.

    As far as what Bob Wallace should do, my advice is to move his shop to Europe. It’s a shitty solution, especially for a couple in their eighties, but it makes eminently good sense as a business strategy. I’m not aware of a European government that has its panties in a bunch over the chemistry skills of its drug lab techs the way the American authorities do.

    Also, the overall regulatory environment in much of Europe, especially Germany, is much more favorable to small business than the hidebound crazy quilt of overlapping American regulators. Anyone with business experience in Germany should correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that, with the exceptions of truly dangerous fissile or explosive chemicals, all a German businessman needs to do to obtain stock chemicals is to order them from the supplier. The German regulatory attitude towards the prospect of illicit drug manufacturers using common stock chemicals in their trade seems to be, “well, we are a nation of chemists, after all.” In fact, it would be out of character for any European government to bug out over an over-the-counter medication like pseudephedrine. The authoritarian streak just isn’t there.

    Wallace’s situation is just the latest outrage to highlight the absolutely psychotic priorities of our federal officials and the utter dysfunction of our current partisan alignments. Germany, to its great credit, has a very deliberate, coherent and effective industrial policy, with an intentional emphasis on maintaining a hospitable environment for small business and the Mittelstand. A majority of our national legislature is controlled by a rabidly theocratic, fascist and ultranationalist faction, the Republicans, who absurdly insist that they are the only true guardians of liberty and prosperity. I fear that I could count on two hands the number of Congressional Republicans who would so much as openly question the wisdom or propriety of mandatory registries of all buyers of certain chemicals on the basis that they have been used in the production of illicit drugs. Meanwhile, the Democrats, whose civil libertarian impulses generally produce opposition to this sort of harebrained, economically chilling authoritarianism, are successfully smeared as implacable foes of small business.

    We’re out of our damn minds on this side of the pond.

  41. #41 |  Overgovernment: Collateral Damage Edition : Conservative Compendium | 

    […] shows just how little our rights matter to those pursuing the self-righteous prohibition (Hat-tip: The Agitator): Eighty-eight-year-old retired metallurgist Bob Wallace is a self-described tinkerer, but he […]

  42. #42 |  derfel cadarn | 

    As opposed to the Fedgov sacrificing innocent lives for money ? Barbara give us a break! When the PEOPLE of this nation have finally have had enough will it be acceptable for you if your cronies and or families are the collateral damage ? I would suspect that it would not, then why is it that we the PEOPLE should be expected to accept it ? Remember Barbara that the sacrifice is always worth it when you are not the one doing the sacrificing. But what goes around comes around and when it is your turn I do not want to hear any whining. After all it is for the children.

  43. #43 |  MPH | 

    Whenever I see a story like this (gov bans/regulates/hassles makers of obscure product), I get baffled by the lack of consistency. They say “we have to do this because criminals use this product”. But there’s a product on the market that every criminal has and uses, and it isn’t banned. They use it to transport their illegal products, facilitate their crimes and escapes from police, and in their daily lives. It’s called a “car”. Why hasn’t that been banned? I don’t suppose it could be because ALL of us would react badly, could it?

    They expect us to react like a frog. Drop us in boiling water, and we’ll scream bloody murder, and they’ll all lose their jobs (or worse). But put us in a pot of slowly heating water and we’ll sit and take it until it’s too late. So far, they’ve been right.

  44. #44 |  Mike | 

    Government is a Militant Entity that Occupies our Society in order to extract our wealth.

  45. #45 |  kyl | 

    “…for it was not a result of DEA regulations, but rather the selfish actions of criminal opportunists. Individuals that readily sacrifice human lives for money.”

    When I read that my thought bubble went completely black. Such utter hypocrisy! With the exception of Ron and Rand Paul, every politician and badge/gun wielding bureaucrat are criminal opportunists who would readily sacrifice human lives for their drug of choice: POWER! How many times have DEA and other incompetent and over-zealous drug cops “readily sacrificed human lives” when they raided the WRONG ‘KIN HOUSE and murdered someone completely INNOCENT?! Then to add insult to murder, they get a free pass because there was no malice intended.

    And then there are the tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel who have been “readily sacrificed” in declared and undeclared wars to defend what exactly? Our freedom? Most of the freedoms the pol’crats love to remind us we enjoy these days exist only on paper. Not because they’ve been usurped by some foreign power or government. Because they’ve been stolen by our own government.

    Ron Paul in the White House 2012!

    Barack Obama in Leavenworth in 2013!

  46. #46 |  Ariel | 

    While I do think this really case really silly, pure Iodine crystal has been a “controlled” substance for about 20 years that I know of which means this may go back farther. It is used in a mining process (forget which precious metal) as one example. The drums are tracked from manufacturer to distributor to end-user (and the end-use certified), and the DEA would routinely check records.

    Ammonia gas, used in one meth process, was an alert to us, but not tracked in the same manner. A routine full installation inspection was necessary for any new customer. Meth makers always hung up when I asked for the address and appointment. I had a buddy that remediated car trunk (no kidding) mobile meth labs, that’s how far meth makers will go. Luckily, none of our NH3 cylinders, or Iodine, were ever found in a meth makers lab.

  47. #47 |  Standard Mischief | 

    This Iodine story actually dates from 2008. Here’s Bob Thompson circumventing those bastards over at DEA:

    Seriously, one lightweight bottle of Polar Pure can easily handle all the water purification needs of someone hiking from Georgia to Maine on the AT. This makes it the ideal item to include into those 72 hour emergency kits our fscking government is telling us to keep handy. Safe water for a dozen people after a terror attack, and they want to ban it. For the children. Idiots.

  48. #48 |  Archie1954 | 

    When the US approaches a problem from the point of view that everyone is a suspect until proven innocent than this kind of egregious activity will occur. Because one African put a substance in his shorts every American must submit to being sexually molested. Think about that. One African man changed the US for the absolute worst. Also that fool that tried to light his shoe on fire has made every American who flys have to take off their shoes. Not bad huh for one stupid gesture? When will the US government get real? None of these foolish requirements help one iota in keeping the US safe. The only way to do that is to get out of the Middle East and leave the people there alone. That’s all they want.

  49. #49 |  PaulTheCabDriver | 

    This makes me disgusted. In a few years at the most, anyone with half a brain and the ability to do so will flee this country for greener pastures elsewhere. (Might I suggest Chile?) It happened in the 60s and 70s in Great Britain. they called it the great brain drain. It will happen here too. Why? because American Exceptionalism is a myth, and people are people. They will go where it is free. Especially the smart ones like the inventor in this story. Maybe he won’t move, because he is 88, but young people who think like him certainly will. Then, when all the talent is gone, where will the American recovery come from?

  50. #50 |  …Another Glorious Drug War Victory… « Authentically Wired | 

    […] …Another Glorious Drug War Victory… […]

  51. #51 |  Jamessir Bensonmum | 

    I’m glad you included the DEA spokeswoman’s comments. Nothing else would have shown their contempt for the rest of us as clearly as DEA’s own words. They understand what their actions are doing to civilians and they are happy about it.

    Comment #49 really makes me wonder – does anyone on this forum have experience living in Mexico or South America? I just wonder if Mr. Wallace – the inventor above – could leave the US and run his business & live happily somewhere else.