Friday, June 10, 2011

The Supreme Court Decides On Freebase Cocaine

I discussed sloppy nomenclature in polymers earlier this week. The PEG/PEO controversy is not so bad as to reach the Supreme Court, but those naughty chemists have been so sloppy that the high (sorry, had to throw that in!) court needed to step in, as happened in yesterday's decision. As I mentioned back in March when the case was first heard [*], the issue basically is whether or not "cocaine base", the term used in the law, is different than crack cocaine, a particular type of cocaine base. Part of the problem is that cocaine base is a redundancy - in a strictly technical sense, all "cocaine" is a base, unless stated otherwise, and yet the term "cocaine" by itself usually refers to the hydrochloric salt (which is the powder that people inhale).

As a result, the decision is rather boring reading of the justices all trying to parse the semantics and justify their particular parsing, all the while noting that the language is not clear.

So shame on you chemists! Let's start getting our bases and salts right so that Congress can get it right. No cutting corners, you hear!

Personally, this is all academic. I've never touched the stuff (that's a lie!) and having made nearly 50 orbits around the sun, I'm not going to start.

[*]...and we all had a good laugh at Justice Breyer for this comment:"People sniff it often, I guess, if it's a salt. And that's bad. And then there's a kind that's worse, that's freebase or crack, and that isn't a salt and it isn't a poodle and it isn't an acid."(emphasis added)

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