Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds terrorism. Terrorism breeds interruption of homebrewing. There was a disturbing article that came up today. Evidently, someone’s burglar alarm went off, so the security company drove by to check it out. They opened the garage (where I guess the alarm indicated an attempted break-in or something) and thought they saw a “still”. Naturally, anything that looks science-y with copper tubes or whatever can only be for one thing: drugs, right?
A bunch of police officers in both marked and unmarked cars AND the fire department later, somebody finally finds out it’s just somebody’s (completely legal!) homebrewing setup. Of course, officials describe the panic as “an appropriate response”. You might think this was in notoriously over-reacting Boston, but no – it was Hamilton, New Zealand.
My first thought was that it probably wasn’t even a “still”, which due to unrepealed prohibition-era laws is still treated pretty much the same that meth-lab equipment would be in terms of legality here in the US. I kind of assumed it was probably just the owner’s fermentation container, or possibly a wort-chiller (see image – click for context). Without some apparently-rather-expensive permits, it’s extremely illegal to have distillation equipment in the US, and I’m under the impression that most places around the world still criminalize home distillation. It’s worse, though – apparently New Zealand repealed the ban on home distillation for personal use over a decade ago. Even if what the panicky security guys saw really WAS a “still”, it’s STILL a completely legal piece of equipment there. And yet, surrounding the guy’s house with marked and unmarked police cars and firefighting equipment was “appropriate response.” Because somebody said “drugs”. The original article may be found here.
In fairness to the public officials, it sounds like once the police and fire department showed up, they actually talked to someone at the house (no tasing or teargas required) and had no trouble figuring out that nothing illegal was actually going on, so the damage was pretty much limited to the time wasted by the police and fire-department in responding. What I want to know is why the “security” company gets a free pass on causing all this fuss by reporting a completely legal piece of vaguely science-like equipment as a “clandestine drug lab”? At the very least, I’d expect people to want to know which “security” company is supposed to be protecting their houses but cannot tell the difference between legal homebrewing equipment and real criminal activity.
As a fairly hardcore nerd with an interest in intentional food microbiology (brewing, cheese, etc.) this kind of thing worries me. I intend to build myself a fairly decent science-lab setup for doing food microbiology. I’m already planning to label everything as though it were part of a public museum exhibit, just in case some idiot happens to see it and assume it’s some kind of terrorist drug lab or something.
Here in the US, I consider “amateur” science and technology to be part of the very foundation of my country’s greatness. Think Thomas Edison. Nikolai Tesla [yes, he was a naturalized American citizen]. Benjamin Franklin. And no doubt many, many others who are less famous but nonetheless made major contributions to the advancement of their country. When we set about attacking that, we’re harming our country – yes, you people outside the US, this applies to you, too.
The moral of the story is this: Please, people – science and technology are fun. Yes, there are many of us out here who quite happily set up “science-lab stuff” to play with food, or rocks, or plants, or electronic circuits or whatever else in a completely safe and legal manner. Sure, it’s a good thing when good police-work closes down some drug-crazed freak’s meth-production setup – I don’t want some idiot blowing up my neighborhood with unsafe chemical activity nor attracting violent criminals anywhere near where I live. All I’m asking is, will people please stop panicking and screaming “drugs!” or “terrorism!” every time you see some glass tubes or blinking lights? Please? Thank you.
This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by the popular drug 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. We now return you to your regularly scheduled (and, it should be emphasized, completely legal) nerdity.