Thursday, August 04, 2005

Operation Meth Merchant

Will Baude points to an NYT article about nearly 50 convenience store workers who are currently being prosecuted for seeling products such as cold medicine and matches. Why? Apparently, it is sometimes illegal to sell legal products when you know they will be used for an illegal purpose. Government informants told the convenience store clerks (many of whom are immigrants with limited English) that they were going to use the products to "do a cook" -- which is an expression that means "make methamphetamine". But even I, with my reasonable familiarity with contemporary slang, didn't know this expression. Why should we expect recent immigrants to know it? (An indicative quote from a woman whose husband is in jail over this issue: "This is the first time I heard this - I don't know how to pronounce - this meta-meta something.")

Now, obviously this application of the law seems to be a silly use of funds (aren't there better people to target?) and also very unfair to the clerks who may have had no idea what was going on. But more broadly, I just don't understand what positive effect this law is expected to have. The only person who would ever tell a convenience store clerk that he was buying the Sudafed to "do a cook" is an undercover agent; presumably, real criminals would be less inclined to this sort of sincerity. So what's the point?


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