Running on Meth

Posted on May 18, 2005
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To some extent, it's understandable that when policymakers see a problem, they ambitiously aim to solve it. Arizona has long been known as home to a significant supply of methamphetamine production, and it turns out some cold medicines can be used in that production. Voila! Lawmakers set out to restrict how and how much non-prescription cold medicine customers can buy, and mistakenly think they have helped to curb the problem.

There are a number of things wrong with this attempt, manifest in the proposed legislation, SB 1473. First, it fails to understand substitution effects. With any purchase, there are transaction costs which are essentially all the costs of doing business that are not explicitly reflected in the price. This proposed measure increases the transaction costs of purchasing certain cold medications, giving meth producers reason to find alternative sources, such as other states where such restrictions are not in place.

Another problem with this misguided attempt is its presumption that commerce should be restricted as a default, with those affected needing to prove the restriction is unnecessary. That thinking is backwards. Besides specious claims that a similar measure has been successful in Oklahoma, it behooves policymakers to prove this measure is necessary for the public good, and that retailers would not voluntarily take cautionary measures, as they have already begun doing.

If meth production is deemed to be a growing problem needing attention, a greater portion of limited law enforcement resources should be targeted toward strictly enforcing existing drug statutes, rather than restricting access to cold medications and adding new burdens onto retailers and consumers.

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