The Coastal Post - November, 1995

California's Rapidly Growing Drug Problem—Methamphetamine


Deep inside a quiet mountain forest, a man sets up shop in the back of his camper and begins his work by mixing several highly dangerous chemicals. In the valley below, another man tends to his flasks, burners and chemicals between the rows of crops he was hired to harvest.These two individuals are not microbiologists or state scientists testing pesticides. Rather, they are the producers of California's fastest growing drug problem—methamphetamine.

Also called "crank," "speed," "ice," or simply "meth," methamphetamine has been manufactured in California for decades. Methamphetamine was originally considered the "poor man's cocaine" and was thought to be present in only the urban areas, with production and sale of methamphetamine being dominated by biker gangs.

In recent years, the methamphetamine industry has changed dramatically. Now most of the production occurs in the rural areas of California where clandestine labs are easy to hide. The producers are no longer limited to biker gangs but also include sophisticated drug rings based in Mexico. The use of methamphetamine has spread from the cities to the more affluent areas of California due to the ease and availability of methamphetamine and the duration of the "high" users receive from methamphetamines.

While all of the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture methamphetamines have legitimate uses in industry, California enacted tough regulations to ensure that these chemicals are used for only legal purposes by monitoring their sale and transport. Unfortunately, because Mexico has not followed suit, many of these precursor chemicals are easily obtained in Mexico and smuggled across the border. As a result, California has witnessed a shocking growth in methamphetamine production. In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a number of law enforcement officials in Mexico.

Last year, 419 methamphetamine labs were shut down by agents of my Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and more than 13,300 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at somewhere between $40 million and $147 million, was seized. In my first year as Attorney General, 1991, we shut down 362 lab sites and seized only 1,409 pound of methamphetamine. In only four years, methamphetamine seizures have grown almost ten-fold, while most other types of drug seizures during this time period remained static or even dropped in the amounts seized.

Methamphetamines pose a multi-faceted threat to society. First of all, methamphetamines are extremely damaging to the health of the user. In addition to the long-term effects that all drugs cause, methamphetamine use generally leads to intense paranoia and violent behavior. Along with the health risks, violent crime associated with methamphetamine producers, traffickers and users is growing more prevalent and intense in nature.

Aside from the obvious problems drugs cause in terms of crime and health risks to the user, methamphetamine production leaves a toxic stew that destroys California's agricultural soil and ruins its lakes and rivers. This poisoning costs taxpayers thousands of dollars for every contaminated site and it is uncertain if the soil, water and wildlife will ever fully recover.

Not only are some of the precursor chemicals toxic, they are also extremely volatile. Explosions, fires and deadly fumes are just some of the hazards that these methamphetamine producers face, as well as their neighboring residents, businesses and schools.

As I travel the state and talk with prosecutors and law enforcement, the illegal drug everyone cites as our biggest problem is methamphetamine. From the rural counties in the north to the urban regions in the south, law enforcement has seen the meth trade grow. We need to focus on this problem and stop it in its tracks before California loses its image of the Golden State and becomes known as the Meth State.