Story by Ryan Grim
Russell Hoy leans back into his patched, third-hand couch and blows out a puff of smoke that lingers over his cluttered coffee table. "It’s been, I don’t know, maybe a year and a half since I’ve seen it anywhere," he says. "Maybe it was at the String Cheese Incident show in Philly back in 2000."
The "it" Hoy’s referring to is lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD. Rather quietly, a key symbol, and perhaps driving force, of the late ’60s counterculture movement, is fading from memory. Once a staple of American drug culture, acid has gone from ready availability to near oblivion. According to both Justice Department officials and former users of the drug, LSD availability is down significantly.
The 2003 Monitoring the Future survey shows LSD use is plummeting at a precipitous rate. No major illicit drug has ever seen such a sustained significant decline, prompting prominent drug policy expert Dr. Peter Reuter to remark, "This is an event."
The decline in LSD availability is mostly due to the increased popularity of MDMA, or Ecstasy, but it’s also attributable to one major bust more than three years ago. On November 6, 2000, Clyde Apperson, 47, was on a Kansas highway heading West in a Ryder truck packed with a lab capable of producing as many as 10 million hits of acid in a five-week period. He and his partner, William Leonard Pickard, 57, driving a silver Buick Le Sabre, were pulled over and searched as part of an ongoing sting operation. Pickard, who initially escaped on foot by eluding two officers half his age, then DEA helicopters and tracking dogs, was arrested the next day at a farm near Wamego, Kansas. A subsequent search turned up just under 91 pounds of LSD, an amount estimated by the DEA to be the equivalent of more than 400 million doses. It was the largest LSD seizure in history.
Pickard is a legend in LSD culture. In 1996 and in 1998, he was involved in the only other seizures of complete LSD labs, and served stints in jail. But it wasn’t until the Wamego bust that agents had significantly impacted the production and distribution of any major illegal recreational drug. That impact is still felt today.
If ecstasy is indeed a substitute for acid, then the previous levels of demand for LSD may not return. "Ecstasy is easier to produce and you can get a lot more for it," says a former user. It’s also more profitable. Tablets of Ecstasy sell for $20-30, while a dose of LSD typically goes for $5. Given such a price structure, it’s easy to see why a chemist would rather produce ecstasy.
The most recent amateur chemist to try his luck in the acid business is soon set to join Pickard and Apperson. Glenn Slayden, 37, a Seattle jazz pianist, was arrested on February 5 and charged with attempted manufacture of LSD and attempted possession of Ergotamine Tartrate—the banned chemical needed to produce acid—in what may prove to be only the fourth seizure of a full lab. The Kansas duo can rest assured, however: Slayden could have produced no more than 20,000 doses with his nascent lab, which was seized before a single sheet was dipped.
This, however, must be small solace to Pickard and Apperson, who in August of 2003 were sentenced to life and 30 years in prison respectively for their role in what may be the beginning of the end of a nation’s love affair with breathing walls, melting colors, and $5 conversations with God.