Operation Meth Merchant, an ongoing effort to catch store clerks who "knowingly" sell the ordinary household materials needed to make methamphetamine, may be the stupidest drug interdiction program yet. This week law enforcement officials ran a sting on 49 convenience stores, according to the New York Times , catching 44 Indian immigrants in the act of selling stuff like charcoal and cold medicine. The undercover agents apparently hinted that they were buying the stuff to make meth with phrases like, "I need this stuff to finish up a cook," slang that the Times reports many of the arrested immigrants weren't able to understand.
Even if we ignore the institutional racism that is implicit in this scheme, it still has to rank among the most moronic policing efforts of recent years. Essentially, the plan is based around an "undercover" operation in which cops go into stores and say "I'm buying this Sudafed so that I can make methampetamine." Topping it off, they use coded language that Indian immigrants (and squares like me) will never understand, virtually guaranteeing that those who are hip to the meth scene will get curious about drugrunners that blab their business to strangers, while innocent folks will blithely ring up their purchase. That's dumb. But here's a news flash that proves it's even dumber: meth makers might well go to a grocery store and buy charcoal, then head to Seven-Eleven and buy Sudafed, then to the pet store for kitty litter. How's a clerk supposed to be tipped off that this is a drug maker--unless the guy's an undercover cop and tells him flat out that he's buying the stuff to make drugs?