Meth for one, please

If the trailer’s a-shakin', someone’s probably a-bakin'.


Sgt. Carlos Ponce didn’t call me in time for my “Sacramento goes Breaking Bad” piece. But the busy Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department narcotics investigator did touch base last week and shared some interesting tidbits about how the local methamphetamine scene is shifting from the mass-producing crystal labs of yore to “mom and pop meth labs” that make just enough for two. (Or one.)

Stricter statewide restrictions on precursor materials like pseudoephedrine (the gunk in cough syrup that knocks you out) and the scary escalation of Mexico’s drug war have pushed most super labs into cartel territory.

This is where most of the region’s meth originates from these days.

Not even biker gangs want to take the food out of the mouths of south-of-the-border organized crime, so meth-manufacturing jobs have pretty much dried up stateside. (Ohhbama!) But not the availability or usage, as a recent White House survey of people arrested in Sacramento can attest.

The California labs that remain are peppered through the Central Valley. They turn the liquified crank the cartels hide in detergent jugs and soda bottles into the crystal that tweakers want to buy on the street. Law enforcement raided one of these conversion laboratories in Stanislaus County in May, seizing nearly 290 pounds of crystal meth that may have come from Washington state, the U.S. Attorney’s Office states.

There aren’t many of these “ice labs” in Sacramento County; most local meth busts target those possessing the poisonous drug.

In a three-day span ending August 17, sheriff’s deputies arrested two men on meth-possession charges in unincorporated Sacramento. One came during an August 14 vehicle stop at Persimmon and Pomegranate avenues that led to the discovery of a meth rock, not to mention a hatchet, sword, digital scale, drug pipes and a bag full of barbiturates.

But Ponce, who was stationed in Hawaii during the 1980s, when Asian gangs controlled the meth market using China-made ephedrine, said a new trend is trickling this way from the East Coast. It involves users cooking just enough meth for themselves using plastic water bottles and whatever cold capsules they and their friends can “smurf” from local stores without raising suspicion.

The attraction to making frozen dinner-style quantities is that it’s cheaper, it’s easier to destroy the evidence after a “one-pot cook,” and the legal exposure is considerably less than if you were making enough to distribute for profit.

The downside is that these mini-labs are highly unstable, prone to fireball-spouting explosions.

So it’s a good news-bad news sort of thing.

Ponce’s team has uncovered two of these personalized labs in Sacramento County. Both were nonoperational, but had the necessary ingredients for a “shake and bake” stowed in boxes, he said.

Given what’s happening on a national scale, he expects more to crop up.

One reader reported several small-time cooks in his neighborhood, which isn’t too far from SN&R headquarters.

“The former great ingenuity of the American is now used to make drones, crystal meth and steroids,” the reader said.

Ponce’s narco unit is one of only two teams left in the county following years of budget attrition, which he said is an aggravating factor when it comes to keeping up with innovating drug-makers.

“We do what we can,” he told SN&R.

The other squad is a task force called the California Multi-Jurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team. Various local agencies assign personnel to the team. The Sacramento Police Department used to have a narco unit, but most of the officers were redirected to patrol when layoffs were made. The Roseville Police Department in Placer County runs a four-person vice and narcotics detail.

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