Science
Teen with home chemistry lab mistakenly arrested for meth production

Make Pt1335-1
Annalee @ io9 pointed me towards a story we’ll likely hear again and again until authorities realize that we’re never going to encourage the next generation of chemists if we treat every kid with a home chem lab like a criminal… As Annalee said to me in email… “We should be championing this cool kid who created an awesome home lab” – Crimes Of The Future: Teen with Home Chemistry Lab Arrested for Meth, Bombs

A Canadian college student majoring in chemistry built himself a home lab – and discovered that trying to do science in your own home quickly leads to accusations of drug-making and terrorism.

Lewis Casey, an 18-year-old in Saskatchewan, had built a small chemistry lab in his family’s garage near the university where he studies. Then two weeks ago, police arrived at his home with a search warrant and based on a quick survey of his lab determined that it was a meth lab. They pulled Casey out of the shower to interrogate him, and then arrested him.

A few days later, police admitted that Casey’s chemistry lab wasn’t a meth lab – but they kept him in jail, claiming that he had some of the materials necessary to produce explosives. Friends and neighbors wrote dozens of letters to the court, testifying that Casey was innocent and merely a student who is really enthusiastic about chemistry.

More:
Student held on explosives charge released – Teen mistakenly arrested for meth production allowed home for holidays.

Casey, when you can talk about this – please let us know. Maybe we can hook you up with something from our Chemistry guide.

40 thoughts on “Teen with home chemistry lab mistakenly arrested for meth production

  1. It’s time to admit that the U.S. is on a severe downward spiral toward third world status. Anyone with any desire to excel in their field of choice should start investigating other countries. It is time to get out. I’m lucky in that most of my working years are gone (I’m 55), but I’m ready to leave. There is just no future for anyone who wishes to excel on their own. Perhaps Eastern Europe or China, maybe one of the other Asian tigers. It is just hopeless here.

  2. So what if he *was* making explosives? As long as he wasn’t planning to blow up anything he wasn’t allowed to blow up (himself and his own possessions are fair game), it’s his own business.

    I used to make a bunch of different low explosives when I was a teen. I avoided the high explosive stuff, as they’re just too dangerous for my taste. I made some pretty firecrackers and fireworks, and other than a couple minor burns caused by people not heeding my safety advice, nobody was ever hurt by it.

    Low explosives are the “hook” to get kids interested in chemistry. They’re pretty, spectacular, and simple enough to use as a starting point. It sparked my own interest in chemistry, and I did well in all my chem classes from that point forward, even if I eventually went into electronics.

    Seriously, let the kid play in his lab.

  3. Wanna bet if he had built a huge pulpit in his garage and spent his Sundays dressed in a cheap suit going “Booggada-Booggada, Jeebus sez give me a $20 Love Gift!” He’d be praised in the local editorial page as a “Fine example to all our youth”?

    Pretty disheartening to realise half the crap I played with as a kid (things that went POP! and FIZZZZ! and made SMOKE) would probably get me a one-way ticket to GITMO now…

    Maybe Rick Warren will ask his BFF Barack if he can burn down the Library of Congress?

  4. If my reading of the law is correct, in the UK you can legally make up to 100g of any explosive, as long as it is for experimentation, demonstration, or theatrical purposes.

    Probably different in America but I expect they’d still need to prove he was intending to blow something up that he shouldn’t.

  5. A few mistakes there jebus. First, he wouldn’t be “praised in the local editorials”. That’s more of an American thing. There’s a lot less emphasis on religion here, and we tend to severely downplay an ecumenical aspects of a persons background because we have such a diverse culture of people’s.
    We don’t have a library of Congress. Or a congress. We have a national library in Ottawa though and a parliament.
    A dig you’re not going to like is “the response by the police is a direct result of American influence”. There. I said it. Problem is, over the past 20 years or so we’ve had growing gun violence in Canada, and major headaches with gangs and drugs. Blood and Crips in the heart of Saskatoon. The police did the right thing in this case. Who’s to say what the “lab” was being used for. We’re getting a filtered version of events from the media. That same wonderful body that told all of us (even here in Canada) that there were WMD in Iraq. And the guns (hand guns) we find here ALL come from the U.S. We don’t allow private citizens the right to bear arms and we never allow them to posses hand guns accept in very special circumstances.

    Let the courts sort this out. It’s not for us to decide with such little evidence who’s right and who’s wrong in this instance. How do we know they didn’t find 50kg of gelignite in there.

  6. According to the follow up article, the Canadian court system, appears to be reacting with restraint: Lewis was released on bail for the holidays, and can at least still complete his chemistry classwork under instructor supervision. I could only hope a US court would be as reasonable. And it should be noted that the Canadian police could have been more aggressive. Instead of assaulting the home with an anti-terrorism squad, they served a warrant and interrogating the student in his living room. Sure, they probably overreacted, but it could have been worse.

    Perhaps we can dig deeper into this story. Questions for chemistry experts and web sleuths:

    1.) What was the media reaction to the arrest? Did they make a villain of him, Star Simpson claimed about her in the last Make mag, or did they remain neutral?

    2.) What chemicals are found in fertilizer, and what are their uses in a home lab? Is there an alternative, less eyebrow raising way to get these chemicals?

    3.) How much fertilizer did this guy buy?

  7. If he gets arrested, everybody in Canada should be arrested. Common materials can make explosives. Get a etch-sketch, some fertilizer, and charcoal, you have a smoke bomb or black powder.

  8. Distilled from Wikipedia:
    Fertilizers are labeled by x-y-z, where x = % Nitrogen, y = %phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5), z = % potassium oxide (K20).

    From Make Mag’s home chemistry feature:
    14-0-45 gets you potassium nitrate (KNO3), and can be used as a low grade explosive (or fertilizer).
    34-0-0 is ammonium nitrate (NH4-NO3), an explosive (or fertilizer).

    The website http://www.athabascau.ca/courses/chem/217/experB4.htm lists a home experiment that uses 10-52-10 fertilizer.

    Can we sleuth around to find what type and how much fertilizer did this guy buy and what interesting home experiments you could do with it?

  9. And I don’t mean the being arrested for doing science which is of course bad enough. I mean the trend these days (not just in America) of the Police arresting someone for something, finding they made a mistake then carrying on and charging them with something else instead!

    It’s as if the authorities around the world are incapable of admitting when they over react and make a mistake so they have to find some charge to save face. There is also this worrying trend of going into things full on, maximum response straight away.

    What happened to intelligent investigation? Now it’s rush in, arrest everyone then charge them with whatever you can. Surely some simple Police work, a few background checks, maybe visiting the guy and talking to him and his parents to see what he was doing could have saved a lot of cost and bother in this case perhaps?

    As I said this doesn’t seem to be an issue in just America, Canada, UK, etc. Seems to be happening everywhere.

    Simon

  10. I don’t believe .gov is preventing anybody from exploring. They tend to frown upon drug manufacture though, and probably don’t like people manufacturing explosives either. Manufacturing explosives in the USA is legal without a license at a federal level so long as you don’t buy, sell, transport, or store them (consult the ATF’s “Orange Book” for what these terms mean). Just please note here that this is at a Federal level, your state and local laws may prevent this where YOU live. I don’t know Canada’s laws, and none of us knows if he was manufacturing explosives at this point. Want some fertilizer based explosives? Buy some from Danny Tanner, here: http://www.tannerite.com. This stuff is not mixed so it’s not regulated till you mix it up. Enjoy.

  11. Tercero and Bob D.

    Suuuure, the Police and The Courts and The Government can always be trusted to do the right thing. And always admit when they make a mistake.

    No one has ever, ever been framed by politicians to play fall guy. All judges are honest. And rogue killer cops just don’t exist (remember Rampart, LA?) Keep thinking like that and you will keep the government you so obviously deserve.

    The ship of fools is foundering dude. Canada may not be as gobsmitten as the USA, but look at your laws, the christian temperance movement and the fear of god/sin underwrites almost all law. Dancing will be next.

  12. Put your paranoia away Francis. This isn’t a movie. In real life, people make mistakes, AND people also do bad things. Canada is not the US. First mistake among many. We have totally separate laws governing the use of firearms and explosives. Much tighter restrictions on chemicals you can purchase and manufacture. And we have a crime rate that’s a fraction of what it is in 1:1 comparison in the U.S.
    I’m not saying we’re better, I’m saying we have fewer problems because we have more restrictions. Frankly. People are morons for the most part. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. In this case, your basing your conclusion on an article published by a web paper. How do you know all of the facts are accurate? Don’t jump to conclusions and doubt the system that protects the public from people like your Timothy McVeigh. I notice you don’t laud him when you mention homemade explosives, or did I miss something?

  13. wtf does any of this have to do with religion? why the fck does everyone always play imaginary victim to christianity? but i guess it’s such a convenient target for ur 5 minutes of hate right, when u have a hammer u see nails

  14. I grew up in the 50s and 60s in England and was always interested in chemistry, going on to a career in teaching. However at the age of about 13 I and my friend ended up in hospital after some experimental rocket fuel we were making spontaneously ignited. We had learned what chemicals to mix from a book entitled “Safety in the Chemical laboratory” which we reverse-engineered so to speak to find out which chemicals to mix. We just got hold of the ingredients from a wholesaler (you could pretty much buy anything you wanted in those days) and were progressing quite well until the accident, when our parents called a halt. The tree we split in half using potassium permanganate, magnesium powder and a fuse of glycerine may also have had something to do with it. My point is that we were doing this not for terrorism purposes but out of scientific curiosity. The real reason why we shouldn’t have been doing it is that we were idiots messing about with high explosive, not that we were potential terrorists. If the police in this case had any sense (which would be unusual in my experience) they would have invoked health and safety legislation and kept an eye on the man by covert surveillance. Probably one of his friends thought it would be a laugh to report him to the police, but unfortunately the police do not have a sense of humour. I do note however that in the United States the states which have a free for all legislative approach to explosives and fireworks home manufacture have the lowest crime rates, and those states which have legislation similar to that prevailing in Canada and the UK have much higher crime rates. Just check the figures.

  15. I personally have a strong fascination with energetic materials and rocketry, and as such have invested several thousands of dollars into a personal home lab, including a fully teflon vacuum distillation setup, ftir spec, etc.

    Unfortunately, were any agent of a three letter agency to take a tour of my home lab, I would undoubtably be arrested immediately for some form of terrorist or drug charges.

    My large 3-necked flasks are extremely useful for many reactions, but I’m sure law enforcement would simply see meth production or something stupid.

    It sadly makes me very paranoid about my hobbies, and I feel like I have to hide it from everyone…

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