Methamphetamine: What Is Smurfing?

Criminal Law


Police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges often use language that a layperson or the general public doesn’t understand. Sometimes, the vernacular becomes popular enough to be used in television dramas about crime like Law and Order, NCIS, or CSI. Some of these slang terms are pot (marijuana), B and E (breaking and entering), DUI (driving while under the influence), vic (victim), and perp (perpetrator).

However, sometimes the terms first have their origins in television and transform to slang in the real world. One of these odd terms is “smurfing.” Smurfing is a verb in criminal-law jargon meaning several different persons involved in a methamphetamine cook who are going out into the retail community and purchasing the ingredients necessary to manufacture methamphetamine.

On the Smurfs cartoon, all the little blue smurf creatures go out into the forest to collect their roots and berries. They then return to the smurf village to add their foragings into Papa Smurf’s cooking pot for one big stew. Just like the cartoon smurfs, meth cooks often solicit several persons to go out into the community and return with the ingredients for the methamphetamine cook. This strategy is used because it is much more difficult for law enforcement to realize that the products are being purchased for a methamphetamine cook if several different persons are doing the purchasing at several different locations.

So, if one person purchases ingredients necessary for manufacturing methamphetamine, including iodized salt, coffee filters, matches, fertilizer sticks, lantern fuel, lithium batteries, and pseudoephedrine cold medicine, then it’s very easy for store personnel and police to realize that the products are being purchased for a methamphetamine cook. However, if each of these items is purchased singly in different locations by different people, it is much more difficult for police to intercept the methamphetamine manufacturing operation.

When police receive a tip that a methamphetamine cook or smurfing operation is underway, police will sit in their police cars outside pharmacies and watch persons entering and leaving the store. In fact, police can watch a pseudoephedrine purchase in almost real time on their laptops in their police cars. As soon as the pseudoephedrine is purchased in the store, the information gets transmitted to the National Precursor Log Exchange database. Police can then match that information from the sale on their laptop computers with license plate information when the purchaser exits the store and enters a vehicle. Oftentimes, police will then conduct a traffic stop in an effort to investigate and obtain information about the meth cook or the smurfing from the individuals being surveilled.

On January 1, 2015, in an effort to crack down on smurfing, Governor Snyder signed a law making it illegal in Michigan to solicit a person to purchase or acquire ephedrine or pseudoephedrine for use in a methamphetamine manufacturing operation. MCL 333.7340c. Merely asking a person to do so has a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. MCL 333.7340c(2).

Of course, it’s also illegal for a person to enter a criminal conspiracy for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine. So, the purchase of items other than medication, like coffee filters, lantern fuel, and lithium batteries, at the behest of a meth cook for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine can expose both the meth cook and the smurfer to conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine charges, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. MCL 333.7401(2)(b)(1).

If the meth cook and the smurfer are involved in obtaining both medicine and other ingredients intended for manufacturing methamphetamine, the meth cook could be convicted of both crimes.

Jeffrey M. Schroder, Esq.

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