Battle to end North Dakota’s restrictions on pharmacy ownership continues

New York City -- Months after a voter initiative to abolish North Dakota's strict restrictions on pharmacy ownership foundered, the long-running debate resumed Tuesday in the state’s legislature, the Associated Press reported.

North Dakota is the only state in the nation that requires pharmacists to have majority ownership of most pharmacies. The law prevents major retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores, from operating pharmacies in their own stores.

The latest attempt to repeal the ownership restrictions is being sponsored by Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, who said he was not doing so at the behest of large retailers, many of whom have lobbied in the past to end the restrictions.

"I'm not arguing that we ought to prefer chain stores over independent retailers," Beadle said. "I'm arguing the citizens have the right to choose for themselves wherever they feel is best."

The North Dakota House's Industry, Business and Labor Committee took no action on the bill after holding a four-hour hearing Tuesday.

North Dakota's law has been in place since 1963, surviving a number of repeal attempts and a legal challenge that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two years ago, the House defeated repeal legislation despite a high-profile organizing and lobbying effort backed by Wal-Mart and other large retailers.

An array of pharmacy organizations supported the law, which they said makes North Dakota the envy of pharmacists across the country.

Pharmacies operating when the law passed in 1963 can operate without the restrictions, and some have passed on their permits through changes in ownership. Several CVS pharmacies in the state still operate under the exception.

The law also allows grocery stores and other businesses to lease space to independent pharmacies, and own up to 49% of the pharmacy.