papers please...
March 15, 2005 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I was asked for identification today, to purchase a gallon of mineral spirits at WalMart. Does anyone know if this is due to new legislation, or is WM doing this on their own? The clerk told me I could expect to be ID'd for many other items in the future. I'm also curious if they think I'm making bombs or drugs.
posted by pekar wood to Law & Government (36 answers total)
I believe mineral spirits are one of the components of making crystal meth. I'm guessing you were ID'd because you bought such a large amount.
posted by luneray at 4:29 PM on March 15, 2005

Can't help you, but if you're wondering if bombs/drugs come into it, ensuring that bomb-makers are over 21 before supplying them with their explosives doesn't seem very useful unless they record the ID details. Was any of the information recorded, or was it just the clerk checking your age?

I once had a clerk refuse me on BS grounds. My GF was buying wine, and had her ID, yet he wanted to see mine too. Mine was valid but from a different country, so he refused to sell the wine to my GF. He claimed it was "policy" (obviously a lie else the supermarket couldn't sell alcohol to the moms if their children happened to be in the store with them, and it can). Upon complaining, it turned out that the guy had just been burned by one of those enforcement tests where an underage kid tries to buy while an agent watches. Another offence meant he would lose his job, so he was presumably all paranoid about selling alcohol, but using the old "it's policy" BS to cover his ass. Maybe it was something like that?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:31 PM on March 15, 2005

Whatever the case, don't expect to take what a cashier (or the people at customer service) tell you at face value. When trying to return some software I considered absolutely broken (it would open and allow changes but not save; it was supposedly the full software; there were no patches available; the product was no longer supported), I was told repeatedly that the store could not refund my money "because of copyright laws." After going through a chain of friendly unhelpful people, culminating in a long frustrating conversation with someone at HQ, it turns out that 1) they can cite no such law preventing retailers from accepting returns on opened software and 2) Wal-Mart has chosen that policy because they don't want to have to accept back something they can't resell, and they also just don't want to take up the issue with the manufacturers.

You may have to dig into this one a bit.
posted by Tuwa at 4:31 PM on March 15, 2005

Interesting, for clarification you used cash right? I assume that mineral water can be used for meth manufacturing where tap water cannot because of its various additive. Obviously it would seem that if Wal-Mart had such a problem with meth chemists buying only one gallon of it, they'd sell mineral water in smaller quantities to make it easier to discern (like they do with cold medicine).

I've been ID'd for buying just a lighter twice now, and my ID has been checked more thoroughly for that (scanned, checked the hologram) than anytime I've purchased liquor. Which is weird, as I'm pretty sure lighters are not illegal to possess for those under 18.

Though that just may be policies the stores I go to have internally to discourage kids from even trying to buy cigarettes, what possible ill-gotten thing can be had from mineral water I cannot say. For some reason I have a sinking suspision the clerk got in trouble for not ID'ing someone on a video game and instead of trying to remember what they should and should not ID is checking IDs for every item, and just fed you that line. Wal-Mart clerks have a certain, je ne sais quoi.
posted by geoff. at 4:32 PM on March 15, 2005

And presumably your ID is kept on file, so that when the cops decide to bust local crystal meth labs, they'll be a knock on your door. Unless it's a "no knock" search instead.

Remember, if criminals break down your door, they'll kill you if you don't immediately shoot back. But if cops break down your door, they'll kill you if you shoot back. So learn to distinguish, in a fraction of a second, cops in black "infiltration"-style uniforms from criminals in black "infiltration"-style clothes.

Because we're going to win the War on Drugs. Or (you'll) die trying.
posted by orthogonality at 4:35 PM on March 15, 2005

geoeff.: Mineral spirits and mineral water are not the same (a mistake you don't make twice).
posted by fvw at 4:38 PM on March 15, 2005

> mineral water

uh, mineral spirits
posted by jfuller at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2005

Mineral spirits and mineral water are not the same (a mistake you don't make twice).

Also, mineral water and distilled water are two different things. And yes, distilled water is nescessary in the synthesis of methcathenone.
posted by ChasFile at 4:56 PM on March 15, 2005

Brings to mind John Gilmore's "Freedom of Travel" lawsuit filed against various federal agencies " make them stop demanding that citizens identify themselves in order to travel. Not only airports, but trains, buses, and cruise ships are now imposing ID requirements. This violates several constitutional rights. Stop showing ID whenever someone asks (or demands) it, and you will start to discover just what your rights are."
posted by ericb at 5:04 PM on March 15, 2005

I was carded for spaypaint at Lowe's because "kids like to huff it." So I would presume it's due to some low-braincell-count kids lowering their braincell-count even further with the fun help of mineral spirits, and less the thing about meth.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:06 PM on March 15, 2005

Also - Cory Doctorow's recent situation with American Airlines" "Why is American Airlines gathering written dossiers on fliers' friends?"
posted by ericb at 5:09 PM on March 15, 2005

Here in Fargo, North Dakota, War-Mart is part of a community-wide meth watch. They call the cops if you buy too much of any given item... I don't know, though, if they ID you first.

I have been ID'ed several times purchasing spraypaint... which is aligned with your experience. In those cases, they were clearly checking age, as the till would read "18 YES/NO" and they could just punch a Y or an N.
posted by fake at 5:12 PM on March 15, 2005

I doubt it has anything to do with meth. More likely, they're worried about minors purchasing asphyxiants for the purpose of huffing. If you're over 18, of course, Wal*Mart is fine with you huffing away.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2005

Tangentially: wouldn't it be funny if they started recording your identity when you bought distilled water? I bought three gallons just this weekend!
posted by mr_roboto at 5:35 PM on March 15, 2005

Oh oops I read it as mineral water, mineral spirits makes slightly more sense. Nevertheless, while mineral water does not equal distilled water, I've heard they can be substituted in dire situations for less than desirable (though effective) results.
posted by geoff. at 5:49 PM on March 15, 2005

I'm guessing Wal-Mart headquarters did a database search for "spirits" and flagged everything that matched. That, or the huffing.
posted by ontic at 6:11 PM on March 15, 2005

A gallon of mineral sprits (paint thinner) is not a large quantity. Carding someone for buying it is an indication of how retardedly paranoid our society has become.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:25 PM on March 15, 2005

Walmart limits (to four, as I recall) the number of lithium batteries you can buy at one time, as I discovered buying some for my wife's glucose monitor. Evidently something in there is a meth component. Ditto for decongestants, I hear.
posted by words1 at 7:12 PM on March 15, 2005

I'm pretty sure it has to do with "huffing" They've ID'd me on lots of things that seem like they might be "huffable".
posted by delmoi at 7:19 PM on March 15, 2005

How about getting carded for sticky-tak (adhesive putty)? I'm still trying to figure that one out.
posted by puke & cry at 7:26 PM on March 15, 2005

Jeez, why do you people still shop at this place?
posted by krisjohn at 7:41 PM on March 15, 2005

I got carded at albertsons, not walmart. stupid policies abound.
posted by puke & cry at 7:51 PM on March 15, 2005

He claimed it was "policy" (obviously a lie else the supermarket couldn't sell alcohol to the moms if their children happened to be in the store with them, and it can).

I don't know about where you are, but I believe it is law in MA that you can't sell liquor to someone unless everyone accompanying that person has ID and is over 21.
posted by advil at 8:41 PM on March 15, 2005

We should keep in mind, of course, that Wal-Mart doesn't actually care whether you make meth or not. They do care, though, whether the city council is pissed at them for not having a strict Just-Say-No-To-Meth-Labs policy. So they institute whatever half assed policy will keep the local yokels off their backs. If a couple of guys buying mineral spirits have their privacy violated, what do they care?
posted by Clay201 at 8:55 PM on March 15, 2005

Glue, that's what they carded me for. Any type of glue.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on March 15, 2005

I think this one is almost certainly "anti-huffing". Some states, like Texas, have very broad laws that require you to be 21 to buy any product that is an "Abusable Volatile Chemical", which just means it says "VAPOR HARMFUL" on it. This is despite the fact that most of these things will kill you before you get high. Anyways, here is an example of mineral spirits that have that very warning label.

Your state might have the same law, or Walmart may have just implemented one policy country-wide to make sure they abide by the local laws.
posted by smackfu at 9:33 PM on March 15, 2005

1) they can cite no such law preventing retailers from accepting returns on opened software and 2) Wal-Mart has chosen that policy because they don't want to have to accept back something they can't resell

Actually, as anyone who has ever worked retail where they sell electronic software (CD's, DVD's, games, computer programs) can tell you it is the law. Once software has been opened its only supposed to be returned for the exact same thing under U.S. federal law. Having said that, most retailers will exchange for something else or give you money if you bitch enough, especially since no one is actually checking to make sure the laws enforced.
posted by berek at 9:59 PM on March 15, 2005

Here's a list of meth-making ingredients from the National Methwatch program. Neither mineral spirits nor adhesive putty are on it, however. This could simply be consumer profiling, and they're just collecting personal shopping information because they can. I don't think there's any new surprise ID legislation, but consumer privacy laws vary widely from state to state. Not that Wal-Mart probably makes any more differentiation than they have to in their state-to-state policies on such things, but they certainly have an interest in collecting every detail of consumer information they can squeeze out of you.

If a store insists on ID, or even a zip code, for a cash purchase, I'll leave empty-handed. I wish there were a Wal-Mart nearby right now, though, so I could go buy some mineral spirits and do further research on this question.
posted by obloquy at 10:51 PM on March 15, 2005

Once software has been opened its only supposed to be returned for the exact same thing under U.S. federal law.

I highly doubt this is a law. It might also be an agreement with the major record labels, movie studios, etc. that in order to carry their products a store must have this policy, but that still doesn't make it a law. Employers might tell employees it's the law, but that'd just be to make sure they follow the policy.
posted by kindall at 11:31 PM on March 15, 2005

For the record, it was WA, and we later found it was neither law nor policy.

So long as no law can be cited, store clerks seem to know no more than anyone else about the subject. Less even, given the kind of conveniently misleading training many are given.

I'm more familar with consumer laws elsewhere, but I would have thought there would be consumer protection laws taking precedence over such a law even if it did exist. Try selling boxes of Doom3 that are empty but for (free) Doom1 shareware CDs that I put in them, for $50, and I think I'd quickly find that opening the box does not rob a consumer of the right to software that does what the box claims it does. That seems no different from software that will not operate on hardware the box claims it is compatible with. Are there any such broad consumer protection laws at the federal level, or are they all state?
posted by -harlequin- at 11:56 PM on March 15, 2005

To clarify,
1. The register prompted the ID check. I'm unsure if she was checking my age or what. I think she looked at it and typed something short, but I'm not sure.
2. I use several gallons of mineral spirits, aka paint thinner annually, mostly to clean paint brushes.
3. I apologize for shopping at WM, but the convenience factor overrides my distaste sometimes.
posted by pekar wood at 4:47 AM on March 16, 2005

4. I'm obviously over 18.
5. I did kind of look like a criminal. I had sunglasses on, and a skull on my winter hat.
posted by pekar wood at 4:51 AM on March 16, 2005

Once software has been opened its only supposed to be returned for the exact same thing under U.S. federal law.

I highly doubt this is a law.

I'm pretty much positive this is law. I'm wading through the Copyright Office's webpage, which seems to have been organized by dyslexic law school dropouts, and will report back if I find the info.

Having said that, it does make sense. Unlike a shirt or a pair of pants, you can take software home, make a copy of it, and return the original package to the store.
posted by berek at 7:37 AM on March 16, 2005

obloquy: Getting carded for a cash purchase other than the obvious will get me out the door as well, but a zip code? Don't you think it's more fun to skew their statistical data? If someone asks me for my zip code I say "10108" every time.
posted by baphomet at 9:14 AM on March 16, 2005

baphomet, I agree that sometimes it's better to just give random data, such as on forms for those awful supermarket cards everyone is now forced to carry around with them, but I also find it often worthwhile to educate sales staff on the fact that what they're doing is intrusive. With privacy rights going out the window and the rise of identity theft, I find it amazing that people willingly give up personal information for strangers to enter into databases for no reason whatever. 10108--curious; what is that, the middle of the East River or something?

Well, pekar, I don't imagine your looking like a criminal made a flag pop up on the register. You're in Wisconsin, right? I'm going to bet they have a huffable chemical law like the one smakfu mentions in Texas, although I can't find it so far.
posted by obloquy at 12:41 PM on March 16, 2005

I've found "paint thinner" listed on many of the Meth lab spotting lists. Sometimes they specify toluene/paint thinner, sometimes not. I've come to the conclusion this must be a MethWatch thing.
I'm hesitant to search for specific manufacturing information to determine if mineral spirits is a precursor, or if they are just watching it because it's a "paint thinner".
I also was unable to find a "huffable" law in WI.
posted by pekar wood at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2005

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