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Just ask Sally Harpold. A resident of Clinton, Indiana, Sally purchased some cold medicine for her husband back in March. A few days later, she purchased some additional cold medicine for her daughter.
Four months later, police showed up at Sally's door with an arrest warrant. Her crime? She had purchased more than 3.0 grams of pseudoephedrine, a common and legally available decongestant for runny noses. Deputies led Sally away in handcuffs, and the local newspaper ran her mug shot on the front page. The headline read, "17 Arrested in Drug Sweep."
You might think that the authorities would have backed down when they realized that Sally had no intention of manufacturing crystal meth. But you'd be wrong. "The law does not make this distinction," said Vermillion County Prosecutor Nina Alexander. "I'm simply enforcing the law as it was written." She now faces up to 60 days in jail and a US$500 fine, along with a criminal record.
Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident. Consider the sad case of entrepreneur and clean energy researcher Krister Evertson, who was recently released after serving two years in federal prison. Until 2004, Krister had never been arrested. But that changed on May 27, 2004, when federal agents driving black SUVs ran him off the road, pointed automatic weapons at him, and placed him under arrest.
Krister's crime was forgetting to put a federally mandated sticker on a UPS package he mailed from Alaska. The package contained sodium (an ingredient in fuel cell research he was conducting). Since federal environmental laws classify sodium as a dangerous material, it's illegal to ship it by air. Krister knew that, so he packaged the material according to published federal guidelines, and even checked "ground transportation" on the UPS shipping form.
Another theory (advanced by Professor R. Atkinson of Dublin) traces it to L. fellare "to suck" (see fecund), which had an obscene secondary meaning in classical L. (well-known to readers of Martial and Catullus), which would make a felon etymologically a "cock-sucker." OED inclines toward the "gall" explanation, but finds Atkinson's "most plausible" of the others.