The numbers touted by the government in its big LSD bust just don't add up.

The conventional wisdom debunked.
March 14 2005 6:10 PM

The 91-Pound Acid Trip

The numbers touted by the government in its big LSD bust just don't add up.

(Continued from Page 1)

When and where did the DEA seize the 91 pounds of LSD?

The DoJ/DEA press release attributes the number to U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren, and states that he got them from "court testimony." According to Agent Nichols, the prosecution testified at trial that 41.3 kilograms (approximately 91 pounds) of a substance containing a detectable amount of LSD were found in the silo during the search.

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This is a far cry from seizing 91 pounds of LSD—or even detecting 91 pounds of LSD. What the government is really saying is that its forensic chemists detected LSD in samples taken from containers during the search, and that the contents of the containers weighed an estimated 91 pounds. How much LSD did the forensic chemists find? At Pickard's Nov. 20, 2003, sentencing hearing, DEA forensic chemist McKibben testified that "The actual amount of all the exhibits containing LSD was 198.9 grams of LSD," or about 7 ounces of LSD.

Yet the government doesn't seem to have actually seized 198.9 grams of LSD in the bust. From the wording of court documents and correspondence with Agent Nichols, the 198.9 gram figure appears to be a forensic estimate based on the concentrations of LSD found in the samples taken during searches. That is, 91 pounds of LSD-positive material were sampled and, working backward from the concentrations, the DEA calculated an actual 198.9 grams of LSD in the 91-pound lot.

The office of U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren cooperated in the reporting of this story by allowing Agent Nichols to be interviewed. But when asked direct questions about the validity of Melgren's 91-pound press release claim, the office demurred. It would neither defend the number nor abandon it. A Melgrin spokesman stated, "We've given you all the information we can on this subject."

None of this is to suggest that the owners of the missile silo lab weren't in the LSD business. What is clear is that the government continues to stand by a 91-pound LSD seizure that didn't happen.

Not everybody in the government is on the same page about how much LSD was seized. On Feb. 10, 2005, "drug czar" John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, testified before the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources. Walters' testimony, like Tandy's, was part of a budget hearing. He said:

On LSD we certainly disrupted the supply because we took down a major distributor who had, in abandoned missile silos, had made or had material to make 25 million doses.

Only 25 million hits? Even at 50 micrograms a hit, that's only 1.25 kilograms, still about 88 pounds short of 91. Did the Department of Justice and the DEA neglect to send the drug czar a copy of their press release?

Correction, March 17: The original version of this article stated that 10 million hits of acid was enough to dose the nations of Chile and Uruguay once. About 20 million people live in those two countries, so the article erred by a factor of two. The sentence has been rewritten to state that 10 million hits of acid could dose the nation of Cuba about once. (Cuba's population is about 11 million.) Return to the corrected sentence.

Ryan Grim writes for the Huffington Post and is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country on Drugs.

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