Guest Post: Efforts To Reform North Dakota’s Pharmacy Law Seem To Have Fizzled


Over the last five years or so, the subject of North Dakota’s unique pharmacy ownership law have been debated in the Legislature as well as the public.

During the 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions, bills were introduced in the state House of Representatives, which would have removed the requirement of state law that a pharmacy must be at least majority-owned by a licensed pharmacist in good standing. Neither bill got far, as both were voted down by state representatives, following do not pass recommendations of the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee.

Following the legislative setbacks, two separate initiated measure efforts were undertaken to change the law. Both met with embarrassing defeats before they even made the ballot. The 2009-10 initiative made it as far as the secretary of state’s office when the petitions were filed. Unfortunately, the organization which had spearheaded that effort, North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare, had neglected to attach a list of the names and addresses of the sponsoring committee members onto each petition booklet. That oversight was a direct violation of state law, thus causing Secretary of State Al Jaeger to reject the petitions. This kept the measure off the 2010 general election ballot. The group appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the secretary of state’s ruling, and the measure was out.

A second effort by the group really never got off the ground. Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Duane Sand of Bismarck spearheaded another initiated measure effort on the pharmacy ownership law, following the 2011 legislative session. When Sand left the pharmacy ownership initiative effort to concentrate on a primary election bid to wrestle the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate away from now-former Congressman Rick Berg, his departure pretty much left the pharmacy ownership law petition drive flapping in the wind.

With no leadership or direction to speak of following Sand’s departure, what was left of the North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare group decided to let the petition filing deadline pass; and the measure did not appear on the 2012 general election ballot. The group decided to suspend its efforts, citing a lack of financial support and petition signatures.

There were no bills on the subject of the pharmacy ownership law filed in either the state House of Representatives or the state Senate for consideration in the current legislative session. It would seem that most lawmakers have grown weary about the subject. The bill that was introduced during the 2011 legislative session by Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, only got 35 yes votes on the House floor when it came up for debate and a vote.

Will there be yet another initiated measure effort launched on the subject of the pharmacy ownership law? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. No individual or individuals or groups of individuals have come forward as of yet with plans to mount another initiative effort. In the interests of full disclosure, I was a member of the sponsoring committee of both initiated measure efforts in 2009-10 and 2011-12. I was an active volunteer with North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare. The group to the best of my knowledge more or less went out of existence in 2012 following the failed petition drive effort.

From a personal standpoint, I certainly hope some individual or group of individuals will come forward and mount yet another initiated measure petition drive to once and for all get rid of this anti-competitive law. In the other 49 states of the country, this is not an issue; and the big box retailers and the small independently-owned drug stores compete with each other and get along just fine.

Yet, North Dakota refuses to get with it when it comes to this subject. Competition is healthy. Presently, North Dakotans cannot take advantage of the much-advertised discount prescription price offers of a number of national retailers.

Clarence F. “Rick” Olson of Fargo is is a regular contributor of commentary and opinion articles to publications across the state, most namely, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He is a 1989 graduate of North Dakota State University, Fargo, where he majored in mass communications. Following a brief journalism career with stops at a weekly newspaper in Dodge Center, Minn. and at WDAY Radio in Fargo, Olson relocated back to Fargo which has been his home since 1979.

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  • Rick Olson

    Fast forward to May 13, 2013; and I am unaware of any efforts at revisiting this issue at this time. There were no bills introduced in the just-completeld legislative session. However, one can never say never, especially when it has to do with politics. I think another effort could be mounted as far as an initiated measure would be concerned. I still have the text of the measure that was approved for circulation in the 2011-12 timespan. Would have to check with an attorney to make sure it still meets current specifications as to the requirements for legal statutory language.

    The main thing that none of us who were involved in the campaign previously is independently wealthy and could afford to bankroll an entire campaign themselves. I’m an hourly retail worker and I definitely don’t have that kind of money at my fingertips (more like at all).

    I figure any group that would take up this cause again would need at least $50,000 as seed money, just to get the ball rolling again. Ultimately, a credible campaign utilizing radio, television, print, internet and billboard advertising could reach in excess of $5 million. Advertising rates continue to go up each year, even in North Dakota.

    It would take a firm commitment by at least one if not more of the big box companies who would stand to gain more business if they were allowed to operate pharmacies in their stores in North Dakota. Unfortunately, none of the big box store companies is anxious to get into this, out of fear of damage to their respective brand names; if they were to get out in front in support of changing the law. I would say the companies that have been in business in North Dakota for a long time would particularly feel this way.

    Companies like Costco and Walgreens, which don’t have hardly much of an investment in North Dakota (one location each in the entire state) really wouldn’t stand to lose a whole lot if they were to get out in front on this issue. The retailers themselves will need to get in front of the public and tell their customers how this would be a good thing for consumers, and convince the public that this is not simply a means for them to make more money.

    I’d be interested to know what you think. E-mail me at [email protected].

    Rick Olson

  • pet meds n more

    They have to do it to show income tax exception, its all in the game :)

  • Rick Olson

    There must be a pharmacist in charge of the pharmacy at all times in accordance with most state laws and regulations. If there is only one pharmacist on duty and that person leaves to go to lunch, then the pharmacy counter must close until he or she returns. There is a sign which prominently points this out. In other words, while a pharmacy technician may prepare a prescription, label it and package it; the pharmacist must still sign off on every prescription that is dispensed. All due care and every precaution is always taken to make certain that a patient is getting the correct medication. Whether at a family-owned drugstore or at a big box store pharmacy.