Thursday, February 05, 2004
Wal-Mart's ignoble war on drugs
"Over quantity? My friend was puzzled. That's when the manager came over and explained there were only a certain number of battery packages he could buy.

My friend decided the limit was due to the bargain price. Stores will cap the number of items each person can buy so more people can get the price break. It only makes sense.

Not so, said the manager. This was a law.

A law limiting battery sales? Who ever heard of such a thing?

To find out, I called Wal-Mart's Arkansas headquarters. Spokeswoman Danette Thompson opened a window for me on a whole new world.

Wal-Mart, it seems, has a master list of items for which there are limits. And these limits are programmed right into the cash register.

'The list is not something that's published,' said the spokeswoman. 'I've never even seen it.'

'Are we talking dozens of items? Hundreds?'

'I don't know,' she said. 'It's ever evolving. Things are being added at all times.'

So why are batteries on the list?

This she could answer. The camera batteries contain lithium. It is an ingredient used in the illegal manufacture of the drug, methamphetamine, or crystal meth.

The fact that addicts were cooking up their own crystal meth became such a problem that federal officials went to Wal-Mart in 1997 asking for help. The giant retailer responded by putting the batteries in the so-called 'register prompt system,' or master list.

The limit on lithium batteries is four packages for all Wal-Marts except those in Missouri, where the limit is three.

Fascinating stuff, I told the spokeswoman. She said Wal-Mart was simply trying to do the right thing by the war on drugs.

For that reason there is also a limit on packages of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, another common ingredient in crystal meth."

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