Outdated law in N.D.

Clarence F. Olson, Fargo

Did you know there is an outdated law in North Dakota which forces most people in the state to pay more for their prescription medications?

It is true. North Dakota is the only state in the country which mandates by statute that a pharmacy must be at least majority-owned 51 percent or more by a licensed pharmacist in good standing. This is why consumers who visit major national retail store chain stores here in North Dakota aren’t likely to find a pharmacy counter in those stores.

Walgreens is the nation’s largest drug store company. Because of the North Dakota law, it is illegal for a customer to obtain a prescription drug in the only Walgreens drug store located in the entire state. The Walgreens drug store in Fargo stands alone as the only one of that company’s locations in the entire country which does not have a pharmacy. How ridiculous is that?

What has become known as the pharmacy ownership law was enacted in 1963. The effect of this law is that it has created a shield of protection to North Dakota’s independently-owned pharmacies from any significant competition. It also prevents North Dakotans from taking advantage of the much-advertised discounted generic prescription drug offers of many of the national retailers.

Let me be clear about one thing. If you are getting good service at a fair price from your local hometown drug store, then absolutely, you should keep your business there. Also, in fairness to the drug stores that are in business in North Dakota, the $4 and $10 generic prescription drug offers of many of the national retailers are available when someone pays cash for their prescription and does not use prescription drug coverage.

This is an issue which has been much-debated here in North Dakota over the past five years or so. A group called North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare sponsored two back-to-back initiated measures to change the pharmacy ownership law. Their first effort in 2009-10 ended without the measure making the ballot because of a paperwork snafu. Their second effort in 2011-12 fizzled out due to a lack of petition signatures and monetary contributions to the effort.

A newly-formed group called North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices is currently gathering petition signatures on a new proposed initiated measure. If you are a North Dakota resident and see someone obtaining signatures for the pharmacy ownership law initiative, I hope you will take a moment to sign the petition. The group needs to get some 13,500 signatures filed with the secretary of state by Aug. 6 in order for the measure to finally make it onto the ballot in the Nov. 4 general election this year.