Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor page
Instead of “The Golden State,” perhaps California should be known as “The Precautionary State.” California state, city, and county governments routinely take the maxim “better safe than sorry” to an extreme. Proposition 65 and San Francisco’s “cell phones cause cancer” warnings are two that we’ve addressed before here at The Legal Pulse. To that list one can now add Alameda County’s “Product Stewardship Program,” which aims to prevent pharmaceutical products from entering the water supply, something even the hyper-cautious World Health Organization believes isn’t a significant or current problem. Worse yet, because the program imposes the burden of running and paying for disposal entirely on out-of-state drug manufacturers, the county ordinance in question is also unconstitutional.
Cost and Burden Shifting. Alameda County had operated a pharmaceutical product disposal program itself for several years. But in 2011, light bulbs went on in county supervisors’ minds: instead of making taxpayers pay for this program (despite the fact that they benefit from medicines and their “proper” disposal), let’s make those who sell the products pay. The original plan called for both local pharmacies and pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay, but the pharmacies flexed their political muscles and in the end the ordinance exempted them from the program. So the program now benefits local interests at the expense of drug makers who do not manufacture in Alameda County.
Commerce Clause Challenge. Trade associations representing branded and generic drug makers sued Alameda County in federal court, arguing that the ordinance unconstitutionally regulated and burdened interstate commerce. On August 28, Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California denied the associations’ summary judgment motion, ruling that the ordinance neither discriminated against interstate commerce nor favored local interests over out-of-state ones. The associations have appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Last week, Washington Legal Foundation, on behalf of itself and the California Healthcare Institute, filed an amicus brief supporting the appeal. Continue reading