How to find a meth dealer.

Media criticism.
July 31 2006 6:56 PM

How To Find a Meth Dealer

The states establish search engines for your shopping convenience.

Meth Offender Registry Database.

Charged with a drug felony, you get a trial. If convicted, prison or a suspended sentence probably await. In any event, once you've completed your sentence and parole, you go back to being a regular member of society, right?

Wrong, if you live in Tennessee, Illinois, or Minnesota and were recently convicted of making methamphetamine. Tennessee adopted a "methamphetamine offender registry" in 2005, patterning its law after the sex-offender registries now kept by all 50 states. The names of all new meth felons who made or sold the drug are stored in a public Web database, where they stay for seven years. Next came Illinois, whose law logs only meth manufacturers. Last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty mandated a Tennessee-style registry and he promises his state's Web site containing the names, birth dates, and conviction information of meth offenders will be up by year's end. Oklahoma, Georgia, and other states are also considering meth registries.

Advertisement

Of all the crimes on the books—of all the drug crimes on the books—why are states singling out methamphetamine offenders for such exacting scrutiny and ostracism? It's not the potential dangers posed by the drug, or the states would have listed convicted heroin merchants years ago. Nor is it an issue of fire and health hazards posed by clandestine meth labs, or else the states would insist on building out their Web sites to include clandestine PCP manufacturers, too.

Nor can anyone argue that meth makers and dealers are like sex offenders, hopeless recidivists who can't stop themselves from committing the crime again and again and must be publicly monitored in the interest of public safety.

As I've argued in these pages before, the war on meth has become a moral panic, driving everybody a little crazy. No anti-meth measure is considered too strong by Congress or the legislatures; no utterance about the drug regarded as too ridiculous to appear in a governor's speech or on the front page of a daily newspaper. The meth registries are the modern version of medieval stocks, and the people we list in them our era's witches and sorcerers.

What exactly will this punitive harassment accomplish? It certainly won't encourage meth offenders to assume a lawful place in society. Minnesota State Attorney General Mike Hatch, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate for governor and no softie on the drug issue, considers the meth registry a referral service for users. "What better place to find a meth dealer than on an Internet Web site," Hatch said last week.

Or maybe not. The Tennessee meth registry doesn't promise accuracy, covering its ass with a disclaimer on the home page stating that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is in charge of the database, doesn't verify any of the information sent to it by counties. If it's not accurate, why bother?

Even if desirable, are the registries practical? Law enforcement doesn't have the resources to keep tabs on sex offenders who refuse to register. How are they going to track the thousands of meth offenders streaming out of prisons? Would any police chief, sheriff, or state attorney general advocate such a deployment of resources?

The most hysterical of the anti-drug warriors won't be satisfied until they've established meth registries in 50 states, but even then they won't be happy, any more than the advocates of the sex-offender registries were happy after every state set up sex-offender registries. The advocates demanded a nationally searchable database so offenders just across state borders could be spotted, and now they've got one.

Maybe I'm wrong and a registry of meth offenders is a terrific crime-stopper of an idea. But if it is such a great idea, why isn't anybody calling for registries of reckless drivers, white-collar bandits, bunco artists, and petty thieves?

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.