In Tyler last week, two newlyweds were sentenced to life in prison for possessing 255 grams of meth. A DEA agent testified at trial that 255 grams was enough to get 45,000 people "high" -- "If those people were lined up side by side, they would form a line from downtown Tyler to Bullard about 17 miles, he said."
Local media dutifully hyped the ridiculous claim. The lede in the local newspaper declared the couple was sentenced "for possessing enough Ice methamphetamine to get half of the population of Smith County high."
But is that true? That would mean that it only took .0056 of a gram -- or just over five one-thousandths of a gram -- for a person to get high on meth. By any measure, that's a big fat lie.
According to Wikipedia, "Methamphetamine is soluble in water; injection users usually dose 0.2 g in 3ml of water through a small needle." Addicts who snort meth or ingest it orally use more of the drug per dosage. But let's assume all of the couple's customers were injection drug users (and that the two addicts didn't intend to use any of the drug themselves.) At .2 grams per dose, that would mean 1,275 people could inject meth once from that stash, hardly enough to stretch from downtown Tyler to Loop 323, much less faraway Bullard.
Meth, like cocaine, is typically sold to individual users in single-gram quantities -- a person might be in possession of several grams of meth and still legitimately be in possession merely for "personal use." Ingesting orally or snorting the drug, a heavy meth using couple could run through that amount, I'd guess, in a matter of weeks, at most 2-3 months. The idea that 45,000 people could ever have partaken of such a small amount defies all common sense. But if the jury believed such nonsense, no wonder they considered these folks dangerous people who needed to be put away.
The worst part: this appears to be another instance of juries handing down severe punishments to folks who are basically small-timers, dealing mainly to support their rather pathetic addictions:
the woman, who had been using meth for more than four years, said she didn't care about anyone when she was on the drug. She admitted that she lied to police, but said she and Lopez had been clean since their arrests and would never do drugs again. Ms. Lane said she had received Christian counseling and said, crying, that now she has a clear head and is free.This pair only had misdemeanors on their record before now. Public safety would have been best served if they'd gotten drug treatment and rehab, not lifetime incarceration. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for that unnecessary expense?
One of the eight women on the jury cried throughout most of Ms. Lane's testimony.
Ms. Lane said she became so addicted to meth that she stopped smoking it and ate it instead. She admitted that meth has destroyed her life.
"I had the devil on my shoulder for a long time," she said.
The parents of the defendants testified that Lopez and Ms. Lane had good, normal childhoods.
In this case, the answer appears to be, in part, because the DEA used scare tactics and grossly inaccurate statistics to mislead a jury about meth, and because prosecutors were willing to suborn those misstatements in order to secure convictions.
See also: Reason Online has more about the DEA overhyping meth statistics, via Meth Mouth. Follwing Reason, Pete at Drug War Rant breaks down more of the DEA's ridiculous meth stats here. Mark Kleiman had a good piece last month offering a reasoned look at America's meth problem, responding to this article in Slate by Jack Shafer.