The Modern Regulatory State, Licensing Edition

Some days, you follow the rabbit down the hole and end up in Wonderland. Other days, it’s more like an extended, Kafkaesque nightmare. It all depends on which rabbit you chase down which hole. Today’s adventure in absurdity comes courtesy of my somewhat beloved state of Texas. Actually, the exercise didn’t start out as an excursion into the excesses and absurdities of the regulatory state, it just ended up there. Let’s start from the beginning.

In an attempt to give me things that will entertain not only me but her as well, young N gave me books for both my birthday and Christmas. My birthday gift was a lovely tome on how to make fireworks and Christmas brought another addition to the chemistry library. So, as we were sitting around over the holidays, I mentioned that laboratory glassware was easily available from AS&S or United Nuclear. After a brief digression into young N’s fondness for lab glass, J offhandedly chimes in with “Most of that stuff is illegal or requires a corporate license to possess.”

Wait, what? I need a license for borosilicate glassware? Okay, I’ll bite. What, precisely, is illegal and what license are we talking about? "Lab glass and a corporate lab license." Umm, that's not really enough detail, dear. It’s off to the State of Texas website, home to all manner of strange and wondrous information. So, for all of you contemplating an exciting adventure in chemistry experiments and/or illicit manufacture of methamphetamines at home, be forewarned. The following items are illegal for you to own without the requisite permit in Texas:

(A) a condenser;

(B) a distilling apparatus;

(C) a vacuum drier;

(D) a three-neck or distilling flask;

(E) a tableting machine;

(F) an encapsulating machine;

(G) a filter, Buchner, or separatory funnel;

(H) an Erlenmeyer, two-neck, or single-neck flask;

(I) a round-bottom, Florence, thermometer, or filtering flask;

(J) a Soxhlet extractor;

(K) a transformer;

(L) a flask heater;

(M) a heating mantel; or

(N) an adaptor tube.

As a slight digression from my main point, I’ll point out the above is the chemical laboratory apparatus list. An entirely separate list covers which items the state considers to be drug paraphernalia. I’ll note in passing the drug paraphernalia list includes “a container or other object used or intended for use in storing or concealing a controlled substance”. Any object under the sun in which you can place another object can be considered drug paraphernalia. The abuses of common sense involved in that phrase alone are staggering, but not terribly surprising given the weapons grade idiocy displayed by most aspects of the War on [Some] Drugs.

Anyhow, if you decide to chump off and buy your junior scientist about the house a chemistry kit (available here and here, for example) you’re breaking the law, you criminal deviant. Why? Because both of those kits contain the dreaded Erlenmeyer flask, scourge of civilization! And probably a separatory or filter funnel as well, although I suppose one could do some basic lab work without a funnel. Of course, you’re golden if you go and apply for your Chemical Laboratory Apparatus Transfer License like a good little citizen. Be warned, however, by getting a license you consent to maintain and secure your lab apparatus in accordance with the regulations established by the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. You also consent to inspection of your apparatus and the premises it resides upon under a regulatory scheme decided upon by said director. Sounds cool, huh? I know giving the state carte blanche to come into my home and inspect the place and my stuff is high on my list of fun things to do things to avoid at all costs. (See also: FFL, Why T Doesn’t Have One)

To summarize the information I have found: buy a chemistry kit from Target, commit a felony. Or get a permit and consent to regulation and inspection of your chemistry kit and house. Any questions? If so, I suggest you get competent legal counsel. I also recommend you peruse the Controlled Substances Act in its entirety. There are some combinations of items which are sufficient to get you arrested for things much worse than simple possession of a chemistry kit. (It also gives a fair amount of insight into why trailer-park meth labs blow up with the regularity, too.) When you get done, rethink raising your sprog with an appreciation and understanding of science. It doesn’t appear to be a good idea.

Also, to call further attention to the ways in which Texas overreaches its bounds, here is a helpful list of licenses one might need from the state. Since it doesn’t include the aforementioned Chemical Laboratory Apparatus Transfer License, it is obviously incomplete even though it contains 508 items. The similar list of federal licenses is left as an exercise for the reader with more time than me.

In any event, my desire to conduct chemistry experiments at home with the child has undergone a rather sudden decrease in intensity. The downside just doesn’t seem worth it.

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