War is Peace - Freedom is Slavery - Ignorance is Strength

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

News Review

Meth tactic gets a replay

Their goals: Slash local meth production, and ease growing pressure on resources in the fields of law enforcement, treatment and prevention.
And it worked: The amount of meth on the streets went down.
This year, right? Try 1987.

Continuing its long series of ignorant and misinformed pieces on Portland's "meth epidemic" the Portland Tribune brings us yet another avalanche of crap.

While normally I would start by nitpicking at a story's sophomoric writing and unsupportable sensationalist claims, I will cut to the chase here, and get right to the heart of why trying to suppress small time domestic meth manufacturing is a policy train wreck, which has and will continue to increase the harm that meth abuse causes to our society and its citizens.

The primary thrust of this article is that previous efforts to obstruct meth amphetamine manufacture by controlling/banning necessary precursors were effective in limiting meth production, and that the same actions, if repeated, will be successful again.

This is false.

To understand this, all one has to do is observe the evolution of the meth supply chain over the past couple decades. Historically meth has been a product that was produced domestically, mostly on the west cost, by small time cooks. Today major drug cartels rooted in Mexico produce the majority of the product, and the result is that overall production has increased dramatically.

How did this happen? Well, let's just say that capitalism is a bitch.

In a market place, if demand is fixed, and supply shrinks, the price of a product rises. So, if the government eliminates cheap and easy ways of producing drugs, and as a result, supply shrinks, then prices sky rocket. Given the unique nature of the product, higher prices do very little to deter consumption, so even relatively small reductions in supply can lead to dramatic spikes in prices.

The other primary effect of government efforts to prevent the production of drugs is that the capital investment required to produce them increases.

Now, combine sky rocketing prices, and the inability of small time producers to invest the capital necessary to adapt to the new production environment, and the result is a golden opportunity for well organized and well funded criminal organizations to move in and capture market share.

What happens when those organizations do move into the market?

With their superior organizational structures, larger capital investments, and subsequent economies of scale, they begin to produce more product faster and more efficiently than those who they replaced. Which is exactly where we are now.

To understand the proposals currently being floated to curb meth production, we have to take a quick second to discuss how meth is manufactured.

Currently there are two main ways that meth can be produced. The first - used by small time cooks - is a reaction of pseudo-ephedrine, red phosphorous, and iodine, which is relatively safe and easy, but only produces small (2-10g) batches. The second method - used by large professional producers - is a reaction with pseudo-ephedrine and anhydrous-ammonia, which is extremely dangerous and requires a laboratory environment to be done safely, but produces up to a pound (don't quote me on that) at a time.

The reason that the second method is so tough is that anhydrous-ammonia (a gas) is some nasty ass shit. A bit of annie in your face will instantly blind you, and if you happen to inhale, your lungs will be so badly burned that you'll either die, or sincerely wish that you had.

What makes it difficult for the government to legislate against meth manufacture is that all of the precursors have vital legitimate purposes, and are commonly available in consumer products. PE is used in cold medicine, red phosphorous is what the strike pads on match books are made of, and iodine can be reduced from OTC iodine tincture used to treat cuts. Anhydrous-ammonia is an essential component of fertilizer, and the occasional truck bomb.

Because PE is the substance that is actually turned into meth (the other chemicals are used to fuel the reaction), and because the pharmaceutical industry has finally created suitable replacements for it to put into OTC cold medicine, it is now the primary focus of legislative attempts to disrupt the meth supply chain.

Control/illegalization of pseudo-ephedrine is what the Tribune and many others are currently advocating as a remedy to our "meth crisis."

Why wouldn't this work, and what are the ways that it could make the deleterious affects of meth on our state even worse?

It is true that restricting and/or preventing access to PE would make it impossible for many small local cooks to produce meth, but the inevitable result of this (see: capitalism is a bitch) is that the street price of meth would dramatically increase, and due to the addictive nature of meth, the increased price would do very little to abate demand.

Meanwhile, while domestic cooks would be effectively shutdown, cartel manufacturers, rooted in Mexico, would barely miss a beat, and enjoy record profits and increased market dominance in the meantime.

Here's why.

Pseudo-ephedrine converts 1:1 to meth amphetamine. In other words, a gram of PE equals a gram of meth. At current market prices, meth is more expensive gram-for-gram than cocaine. What follows is that if a major cartel, which both produces meth and imports cocaine, faces a shortage of PE, they will simply import PE from Mexico, where it can be bought without any restrictions at all.

What would be the end result of a clampdown on pseudo-ephedrine in Oregon, or the U.S. in general?

A reasonable supposition would be that this will only lead to increased dominance of the meth trade by organized drug cartels, who will enjoy increased profits, which they will invest in more advanced production facilities and more comprehensive distribution networks, leading to even high levels of consumption and availability than ever before.

I passed along your take on the current prohibitionary pincer movement against crystal meth to a local radio talk show host who has had his knickers in a knot about the white shit for a good while.
I wonder why it is exactly why people continue to suck up the stuff when it is so plainly obvious that 'going that fast' cannot possibly be good for you.
Nice bit of writing you have happening here. Today's my first visit.

- Mr. Beer N. Hockey
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