The Real Breaking Bad: How the Drug War Creates Collateral Damage
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Published on May 3, 2012
88-year-old Bob Wallace, and his 85-year-old girlfriend, Marjorie Ottenberg fell in love 35 years ago backpacking to the tops of the highest peaks in the world.
Wallace is a Stanford educated engineer and Ottenberg is a former chemist and decades ago they came up with a water purification product for backpackers like themselves called Polar Pure out of their garage in Saratoga, Calif.
"For an old guy with nothing else to do, this is something that keeps us occupied," says Wallace.
Today, Wallace and Ottenberg are fighting the Drug Enforcement Administration and state officials to continue to operate their business. Why? The DEA says that drug dealers are using their product to make methamphetamine.
The DEA says meth heads are interested in Polar Pure's key ingredient, iodine crystals.
In 2007 the DEA reclassified iodine as a controlled substance and named Polar Pure in particular as a product that was of concern to the DEA. The DEA told Wallace and Ottenberg, they could continue to operate their business but they would have to pay a $1,200 regulatory fee, register with the state and feds, report any suspicious activity and keep track of each and ever person who bought a bottle of their product.
Bob says that the overhead alone would be too much to pass onto customers.
"So that's why I didn't bother with their rules, because I would be out of business if I followed their regulations," says Wallace.
The same went for camping stores and online outlets that stocked Polar Pure. Instead of dealing with the new regulations they just dropped the product, effectively killing Wallace and Ottenberg's business.
"Any time you deal with a government it's a hassle," says Ottenberg.
A spokeswoman for the DEA told the San Jose Mercury News that Wallace was "collateral damage."
"They are being put out of business, they are totally being put out of business," says Stephen Downing, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Downing says that that the DEA is the most out of control arm of the federal government today because they are given so much authority with very little oversight.
"Within the controlled substances act, the DEA is given authority chemicals as they come up," says Downing. "To make it easy for federal enforcement people to so called, do their job and make their quotas and have their show-and-tells, they pass these regulations that impact innocent people."
Downing also says that the metrics for stopping use and production of methamphetamine don't make sense.
The Justice Department's own National Drug Threat Assessment for 2011 said that the availability of methamphetamine was increasing in every region of the country and the rates of abuse were increasing as well.
About 6:47 minutes.
Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Field produced by Zach Weismuller and Sharif Matar.
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