Beakers and Tweakers
Radley Balko | October 3, 2007, 9:25am
Wulf at AtlasBlogged discovers that the state of Texas requires you to get a permit before buying innocuous chemistry equipment like Erlenmeyer flasks, because said equipment could conceivably be used to make "the drugs."
Sure enough, the website of chemistry supplier CR-Scientific includes this passage:
We have recently become aware that Texas has some kind of "drug precursor" law or regulation which requires a permit to own boiling flasks, erlenmeyer flasks, distilling apparati, and the like. The permit is administered by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). While I personally believe this regulation is misguided at best, we cannot advise anyone to break the law. Texas residents, please contact your state representatives and tell them that the regulation is harmful to honest citizens and should be repealed. Please also contact members of the US Senate and House to prevent this kind of regulation from surfacing elsewhere. We don't normally get involved in political causes, but this one bears directly upon many of our customers who practice home schooling and amateur science. The glassware regulation is an example of well-meaning but misguided legislation that simply goes too far.In jest, Wulf implores his readers to "contact Radley Balko!" should a SWAT team tear down his door for possession of improperly-permitted lab equipment.
The thing is—and you know what's coming here, don't you?—yes, that has actually happened.
June 14, 2006 Paramilitary Raid of the Day This one comes courtesy of Henry, a small town in southern Virginia. Took place in October 2003.
Ariel Alonso and Jonathan Conrad were two lonely men who developed an interest in alchemy. After meeting on the Internet, the two men shared a home in Henry, Virginia, where they practiced amateur chemistry, producing various elixirs that they then sold on their website. Cooky? Sure. But not criminal. Conrad, in his 50s, was into alternative medicine, and generated most of the income from the venture. Alonso, in his 70s, was bit more eccentric -- he dabbled in metallurgy. The two had invested thousands of dollars in the lab, but were able to make a decent living from their web business.
On October 13, 2003, local authorities paid a visit to the home, where they saw the men's chemistry equipment, and (naturally) immediately suspected a methamphetamine lab. For reasons still unclear, a "field test" tested positve (there seem to be lots of false positives with these narcotics field tests). The DEA would later admit that test was only "equivocally" positive.
So later the same day, DEA agents raided the men's home. The raiding officers devastated the lab, shattering thousands of dollars in equipment, and arrested the men on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine. The two spent 18 days in jail.
Unfortunately for the drug cops, more extensive lab tests later revealed no sign of methamphetamine, nor of any of the chemicals used to make it. In fact, there were no signs of any illicit substances at all. The two men were released.
Despite their innocence, the DEA refused to compensate Alonso and Conrad for the damage drug agents did to their lab. With no source of income and lots of credit card debt used to buy the lab, Conrad moved in with a relative in North Carolina. Alonso had no family, and so moved back into the home, where he lived on Social Security. When his furnace broke, he had no money to repair it, and had to use his stove for heat. He eventually contracted lung cancer, and died in a low-income nursing home in September 2004.
Posted by Radley Balko on June 14, 2006 |