Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Schedule III

Okay, here's the thing. In the midst of a general sort of argument about whether or not Barry Bonds is the Antichrist (or at least the Anti-Aaron), I got to looking into the laws behind the steroids scandal, and came upon a quandary that I have not been able to penetrate.

In the late 80s, in response to the "designer drug" craze, where "rogue chemists" (I would love to see "Rogue Chemist" on a business card), were making new and wonderful drugs faster than the authorities could outlaw them, Congress made some amendments to the Controlled Substances Act, one of which is sometimes called the "Analog Substances Act." This passed authority to the Attorney General, and by delegation to the DEA, to render judgment on whether or not something was a bad old mean and nasty recreational, I mean, high abuse potential, drug.

The Supreme Court held that this was not an unconstitutional conveyance of powers from the Legislative to Executive, so all systems were "Go" for a DEA crackdown, despite the fact that the law was kinda vague on exactly what procedure was to be used to tell if some designer drug was an immoral scourge. Sometimes a minor modification in structure can make a king hell narcotic into, well, basically just something with a long name and no biological effect to speak of. Other times, things that are completely dissimilar in structure will have similar effects. It's rather hard to tell, in fact.

Nevertheless, the DEA may not know drugs, per se, but it can tell when people are up to no good. They have almost a seventh sense about that sort of thing. So they keep busting people for stuff; that's their job, after all, both busting people, and stuff.

Then we get the BALCO case, all sorts of famous sports guys, and well, we're off to the races, and the ball park, etc. And BALCO President Victor Conte of San Mateo, BALCO vice president James Valente of Redwood City, track coach Remi Korchemny of Castro Valley and Greg Anderson of Burlingame, Barry Bonds' longtime friend and personal trainer, all pled guilty to drug-related crimes. And some of those involved non-analog drugs, like EPO, and testosterone cream.

Then last year, Patrick Arnold, 39, of Champaign, Ill., pled guilty to "conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids." He was the chemist who invented "The Clear," an at-the-time undetectable steroid, plus several other drugs in a similar vein (damn it's hard to to avoid the puns here).

But here's the thing. The 1986/87 law that gives the DEA to power to declare a drug an "analog" does so for Schedule I and Schedule II drugs. Steroids are Schedule III. So it's not actually obvious to this oh-so-untutored-in-the-law observer, that what Arnold did in developing and helping to distribute those drugs was, technically, illegal.

What is obvious, however, is that the DEA had Mr. Arnold by the short ones, with a ton of other things they could indict him for, and what he got was three months in prison and three months of home detention.

What the DEA got was a precedent that looks a lot like it gives them the authority to classify Schedule III drugs as analogs.

It's probably just my ignorance, but it looks to me like the DEA just pulled a fast one. And they did it using steroids.

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