PhotoAnyone who suffers from occasional or, as is more common, chronic sinus congestion already knows the drill only too well. Because the primary ingredient in Sudafed and other decongestants can be used to manufacture methamphetamine, anyone buying the highly-effective drug is now treated like a prospective drug-dealing criminal.

Although it is still technically an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, pseudoephedrine is now kept, well, behind the counter. To buy a few weeks' worth, a consumer must produce a driver's license or other identification and the purchase is recorded, either electronically or in a ledger kept by the pharmacy.

Presumably, anyone who buys too much of the stuff will someday be hauled away by the constabulary after they arrive in their black helicopters.

This absolutely infuriates the chronically congested among us, who note that sinus congestion is not only painful and debilitating but can also lead to sinus infections that are potentially serious, even life-threatening in consumers with other health problems.

Sniffle sheriffs

But now, as it so often does, California is ready to go one step further. The state that is unable to produce a budget that does not invoke gales of laughter alternating with oceans of tears is considering legislation that would spend big bucks to create a centralized database of all California consumers who buy Sudafed and other drugs containing pseudoephedrine.

A bill pending in the state senate would funnel users' data into a privately-owned, centralized electronic database of information about cold and allergy sufferers for easy law enforcement access.

Unlike stronger laws meant to safeguard the medical privacy of Californians, the measure doesn’t clearly specify that a warrant is required for law enforcement access to this privately held database. Opponents say the measure raises serious concerns around consumer privacy and constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure.

On the other hand, law enforcement officials say the bill is vital to public safety.

“Our state is in the midst of a serious methamphetamine crisis, and as the sheriff of Sonoma County, I know that we need a real solution to fight back,” said Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas in a recent op-ed column in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

“While we want to do the right thing and fight meth, we want to do it the right way. And that's what Assembly Bill 1280 does. It will establish a real-time, stop-sale system by harnessing electronic technology that links every attempted sale in the state on a 24-7 basis and blocks a sale if the purchaser of the product has exceeded the legal limits,” Freitas said.

Opponents of the bill are organizing online petition drives and fuming that a country that prohibits police from keeping track of who has guns in their home can nevertheless seriously consider keeping track of who keeps decongestant tablets lying around.