Periscope Depth

head at your feet, fool to your crown

If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember this defense of my stupid boycotts on stupid principles:

You used to be able to buy Claritin-D without showing a government photo ID, if you recall, but the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 changed that. Because pseudoephedrine – a powerful decongestant – can be used to cook up some crank, you now have to present ID when buying it. This will supposedly diminish meth production (even though it hasn’t).

This shouldn’t bother me, right? After all, I’m not a drug dealer, and I have no guilty intentions.

First off, that’s a variation of “if you’re not guilty, you don’t have anything to hide,” a disgusting maxim that’s been used to justify every invasion of privacy from Octavius’s triumvirate to the PATRIOT Act. And second, it’s not even true. You can get arrested and convicted for buying large quantities of cold medication, period, full stop. Not for manufacturing meth. Not for intent to distribute. Simply for owning large amounts of cold meds. William Fousse was sentenced to a year of probation for such a crime. A man who bought up to the legal ration of allergy meds in a month was arrested when he bought some for his child. This is not paranoia; this has already happened to real human beings.

This is a useless law that will not produce results, and with which compliance merely facilitates a charade. I will have nothing to do with it.

This past Sunday I fucking caved.

After 48 hours of a dry convulsive cough and nasal congestion that made my nose feel like a brick, I went to CVS and asked a pharmacist for help. “I’m taking loratadine,” I said, “and gualfenisin, and tussin at night.”

“You’ll definitely need some pseudoephedrine,” she said. “Can I see your photo ID?”

And I fucking gave it to her. I let her put my fucking name in some fucking database like a god-damned criminal. I had to sign the fucking release stating that I wouldn’t try to buy more than 9 fucking grams in a 30-day period (good thing I don’t have a child who suffers from allergies). Now I’m one accounting mistake away from a fucking jail term.

It’s not her fault, of course. She’s just doing her job. And it’s not the DEA’s fault, because they’ve been given a mandate to lower meth usage in the U.S. and this is the quickest way they can think of to do it. And it’s not Congress’s fault, because they’re accountable to voters who might kick them out of office if they don’t look “tough on crime.” And it’s not the voters’ fault, because no one would vote against an otherwise unimpeachable candidate just because he voted for one stupid, harmless bill, right? I mean, how many people use pseudoephedrine, really?

(15 million, says Big Pharma. Compared to the 1.4 million meth addicts in the U.S.. But this isn’t the time to be reasonable. Better that 15 million should be put at risk of wrongful imprisonment so that 1.4 million can be inconvenienced. That’s an Oliver Wendell Holmes line, isn’t it?)

The pharmaceutical companies bucked when the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was introduced. Allergy sufferers complained. But no one’s going to war over it. After all, it’s not like pseudoephedrine has been made illegal. You just have to show an ID for it, like when you board a plane or when the cops pull you over. And if you buy more than a trivial amount, you can go to jail. Nothing to freak out about. If the War on Drugs has taught us anything, it’s that you have nothing to fear if you’re innocent.

An institution isn’t a living organism. But it might as well be, given how intelligently it advances an agenda and defends itself. The War on Drugs has sunk its hooks into the social order by coming down hardest on the marginal members of society – poor minorities – and by putting up a glamorous, dangerous front. This isn’t the result of a conspiracy put into play by William Sessions. It’s the result of people at every level – voters, members of Congress, members of the permanent bureaucracy, the DEA and pharmaceutical companies – making the easiest decision without regard for principle.

And now that I’ve handed over my ID for my month’s ration of pseudoephedrine, I’m one of them. Fuck.

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