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.”