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Why punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty?

By Scott Tibbs, December 19, 2007

I came down with a nasty bug late last week. I could not sleep at 3:00 a.m., so I went to the nearest grocery store to get something to clear my nasal passages. I found what I was looking for, in a ten-milligram dose. To buy the 30-milligram dose of this medication, I have to be in the store while the pharmacy is open and sign for it. I simply used three of the ten-milligram pills.

Keep in mind that this medicine is approved by the federal government's Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter sale. I do not need a prescription to purchase it. So why does the pharmacy have to record my information? A couple years ago, the United States Congress passed a law limiting over-the-counter sales of certain cold medications because the ingredients can be (and often are) used to make methamphetamine. Meth has become a huge problem, especially for rural communities, and Congress felt pressure to do something about it.

I have several problems with this law. First and most importantly, where does the U.S. Constitution give the Congress the authority to strictly regulate a business transaction between consenting adults for a legal product designed to alleviate symptoms of the common cold virus? Has the Tenth Amendment been repealed and I somehow missed it? Did any of the members of Congress who votes for this law even bother to consider whether it was Constitutional?

Even if we accept that the federal government has the authority to regulate the purchase of a legal product by a law abiding citizen, are 535 men and women in one city on the East Coast uniquely qualified to solve the problem for every community in a country that stretches across the continent and is home to over 300 million people? Or are the state legislatures more qualified to deal with the problem meth presents in a way that best fits the needs of their state? Perhaps city and county governments, who are even closer to the people they represent, are in the best position to regulate the sale of cold medicines.

Then there is the basic issue of fairness. Why should I, as a law-abiding citizen, be restricted in what times I can purchase a medicine approved for over-the-counter sale because other people use the product to manufacture an illegal drug? Why should my liberty be restricted because of the criminal behavior of someone else? You might argue that the law presents a minor inconvenience, but the principle of the matter is far more important and must be considered.

That principle is important. Seeking a federal solution to what is ultimately a local problem is indicative of a trend that is destructive to our liberty. Restricting the sale of cold medicine with "big brother" monitoring techniques might help the Congress score some political points while only placing a "minor" inconvenience on voters, but it only serves to increase the size of bloated federal government that already holds too much power. When a decree made by a legislative body on one city on the east coast can control how and when you purchase something as simple as cold medicine, how much freedom do we really have?