California law enforcement was shutting down 1,750 meth labs a year, from elaborate operations that could produce $80,000 worth of the drug daily to modest ventures that cooked it up in mobile homes, apartments, hotel rooms, and even cars, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The U.S. government abruptly shifted priorities to fund the war on terror. California, where the methamphetamine frenzy began, lost an $18 million-a-year federal grant that paid for its antimeth campaign. The number of clandestine labs that police dismantle these days is less than half what it was. The state spent $6 million to start an anti-terrorism task force, and dozens of agents from the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement were transferred there. The bureau has lost almost one-fifth of its work force – 70 of 400 employees – since Sept. 11, 2001. “In the ’80s, it was communism. In the ’90s, it was drugs. In the 2000s, it’s terrorism,” said Eric Hackett of the Imperial County, Ca., narcotics task force.
Terrorism has overshadowed most, if not all law enforcement priorities, particularly the drug war, siphoning everything from funding and manpower to sound bites and headlines. Politicians talk about capturing terrorists and funding homeland security, but few speak of drug lords and overdoses. The public’s attention has been diverted to what many see as a far more pressing and troubling matter. “The nation as a whole doesn’t really see drugs as the major threat anymore,” said Martin Iguchi, a professor of public health at UCLA and director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corp. think tank. “I think there’s been a real change in perspective on what the national priority should be, and drugs just don’t appear to fit into that anymore.”