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The loss of local jobs hits SJ Valley meth industry

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POSTED September 14, 2012 11:35 p.m.

It’s the same old story.

High production costs are sending Central Valley jobs out of the country.

And it is all the fault of government regulation.

In this case, though, don’t expect politicians this election year to make an issue of the job loss despite the chronic unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley.

The jobs going south: They’re meth lab workers.

An effective government crackdown on small lab operations up and down the valley has put the local producers out of business. At the same time, it was making it problematic for suppliers from Mexico to bring in the finished product.

So the Mexican drug cartels took a page out of legitimate business manufacturing strategies. They now import raw powder meth from Mexico and ran harder-to-detect conversion labs close to the intended markets.

It eliminates most of the tell-tale toxic chemical dumps - at least on this side of the border. It also means more meth ultimately can get sold because meth in its raw powder form is harder to detect and easier to transport.

Why this should concern you is obvious.

The law enforcement war on meth was fairly successful. Three strikes also was effective. It whittled back soaring auto theft and petty theft rates up and down the San Joaquin Valley. At one point, Manteca had 798 stolen vehicles in a year. The auto theft rate is now less than half that. A lot of property crimes dropped off as well. The reason was two-fold. Law enforcement was effective in shutting down home grown meth labs and Three Strikes got a lot of the meth users off the street. Users, by the way, that had to steal to supply their habit whether it was taking a car, shoplifting, or swiping power tools from a backyard shed.

The pendulum is starting to swing back thanks to the wholesale clearing out of prison population of “low-level” felony offenders that mostly involve crimes centered around drugs and the conversion lab business plan of the Mexican meth cartels.

The latest strategy has effectively shut down many small meth labs in California since they can’t produce finished meth as inexpensively as their Mexican competition.

In 2008, there were almost 400 meth lab busts in California with only two of them being conversion labs. Meth lab busts have dropped to under 120 last year with a tenth of them being conversion labs. So far this year California Department of Justice statistics show meth lab busts are on track to perhaps break a 100 with perhaps as many as a third of them will be conversion labs.

That sounds like a good trend until you realize that conversion labs produce significantly more meth.

The Mom and Pop meth labs that 15 years ago in Manteca were busted at the rate of at least one every three weeks can’t produce anywhere near what a conversion lab can.

It used to be lab with five pounds of meth was a big bust. Now when conversion labs are busted law enforcement officials are retrieving 600 to750 pounds of meth.

Manteca meth labs have become almost non-existent but not the meth problem.

As long as the meth producers can find ways to keep cutting the cost of production as well as the chance of detection there will be ample customers.

Now that more convicted meth users are heading back to valley communities it is critical to step up the war on meth before it starts once again spreading its toxic byproducts - a higher crime rate and the deterioration of many community’s quality of life.

And if you think legalizing it will help, guess again.



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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