Need to know where your neighborhood meth dealer lives? I think not. But the current trend in law enforcement thinks so. Six states including New York are considering joining Tennessee, Illinois, Montana and Minnesota in enacting a methamphetamine offender registry. These registries will publicly display information about methamphetamine users, makers and dealers that have been convicted of their crimes. In validating their clarion call for registries, law enforcement officials across the country have complained that the toxic materials found from clandestine meth labs have poisoned communities and destroyed property.
The registry trend follows the governmental implementation of making methamphetamine trafficking and abuse a high priority problem. When high priority is established, desperate measures are enacted that sometimes invade the civil liberties of citizens that seem to have nothing to do with the drug war.
The idea of using a data base that details the crimes of offenders is not new. Sex offenders have been under the keen eye of the public through on line registries in all 50 states for some time now. Not too many people would argue against their use in this manner. After all, we must protect our children from predators. But, the question I ask is do we need the same type of protection in the prohibition of methamphetamine?
In about 2004, methamphetamine jumped into the national consciousness as the latest U.S. “drug epidemic.” With covers stories that depicted methamphetamine as “America’s Most Dangerous Drug”, alarmist media coverage and draconian political responses to the dangers of methamphetamine have been reminiscent of the public reaction to crack cocaine in the 1980s.
At the same time the implementation of the federal governments Meth/Drug Hot Spots program was born. It offered local and state agencies almost 400 million dollars to find and eradicate meth labs to end the threat of the meth drug epidemic. Through financial incentives, policing policies were increased to take advantage of the cash cow the federal government had created, all in the name of stopping the epidemic.
However recent studies by several policy organizations like the Sentencing Project questioned the existence this epidemic and have shown that reality contradicts many of the myths perpetuated by the media. Their findings concluded that methamphetamine is actually one of the rarest of illegal drugs used, with its use declining among youth, stabilizing among adults and demonstrating no increase in first-time users. Furthermore, even governmental data disputes the existence of an epidemic.
The war on drugs has created convenient vehicles of looking tough on crime while hiding being the shield of public safety. But that shield gets worn out when our basic rights are curtailed through its use. For example, since the recent enactment of federal laws in several states, cold sufferers now have to jump through ridiculous hoops to purchase what were originally over-the-counter medications. You now must show photo ID and sign a log in order to purchase cold and allergy medicines containing pseuudoephedrine, a drug that can be used to manufacture methamphetamine. There are an estimated 34 different chemicals that can be derived from materials like lighter fluid, road flares and matches. Do we create similar laws to purchase them?
We need to put resources in educating the public about the use of methamphetamine, not creating a public registry. It would be used only as another law enforcement tool that will lead to the further restriction and erosion of our civil liberties. It might not be apparent now, but neither was our right to not be hassled to buy cold medicine before the law changed.