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Published November 03, 2009, 05:43 AM

Opponents of North Dakota pharmacy ownership law launch signature campaign

By: Mila Koumpilova, The Fargo Forum

Opponents of a North Dakota law mandating pharmacist ownership of most pharmacies launched a signature drive Monday to place a repeal on the November 2010 ballot.

North Dakotans for Lower Prescription Drug Prices is shooting to collect 20,000 signatures by Dec. 30 to challenge the law, the only one of its kind in the country, at the polls.

The group says that by keeping big-box discount stores such as Walmart and Walgreens out of the prescription market, the law saddles consumers with higher drug prices.

“That’s created a lot of problems with freedom of choice for the people of North Dakota,” said Eric Thompson, a family practice physician in Bismarck and chairman of the group, which has received back-ing from chain drugstores.

In February, the North Dakota Legislature defeated a proposal to repeal the law, which required majority ownership by a pharmacist. Local pharma-cists argued a foray into prescription sales by major chains will drive locally owned pharmacies out of business, hurting small communities in the state.

Law opponents say the defeat energized them to bypass the legislature and take the issue directly to residents.

“The legislature was hide-bound to the rural pharmacists to make sure they got protected,” said Rick Olson, the petition coordinator. “We want to get this issue out to everybody.”

The law dates back to 1963 and survived a legal challenge that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1970s.

People interested in signing the petition can find a location at