So I see that pseudoephedrine based medication is being made prescription only, and possibly even banned in the “war against P”. This policy has broad-based support in parliament, with both National and Labour supporting it. And like all policies with broad based support it is bad policy.
The purpose of this ban is solely to reduce the supply of P. The government immediately believes that P=bad thing, and therefore reducing the supply of P (with a downward sloping demand curve) will reduce the quantity of P consumed. Even if we assume this is true, it is ridiculous to state that the harm from a drug is solely dependent on the amount consumed.
By banning and restricting access to drugs we make more dangerous forms of sourcing said drug more attractive. By making it harder to access drugs, we give more power to select groups who are able to access said drugs – power they can abuse in order to increase the price (both monetary and non-monetary) charged to the consumer. This is one of those un-intended consequences governments love to ignore.
For example, if we were to make drugs legal then legitimate business (with associated quality control and tax paying abilities) would be set up to sell the drugs. This is surely preferable to having a situation where access to drugs is controlled by arbitrary gangs?
Furthermore, even if we do believe we are “reducing harm” (which isn’t obvious) we have completely ignored the benefit side. People consume things because of an associated benefit. As long as people have information regarding the addictive properties of P and the personal costs associated with it then how can we say that them consuming it isn’t in their own interest? If we believe there are social costs to the consumption of a drug then tax the hell out of the damned thing – but banning it makes little sense.
And finally, by banning the cold and flu medication this policy has a real cost on people who are not involved in the consumption or production of P. Have they taken this cost into account when coming up with the policy I wonder?
This suggests to me that moves to restrict supply further are in fact the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be looking to legalise, tax, and monitor drug use if we want to maximise social welfare – not drive it further underground.
Update: Eric Crampton discusses the negative reaction from around the NZ blogsphere, and his own negative reaction.