Walmart spent $9.3 million to challenge ND pharmacy law


North Dakota residents who last year rejected a ballot measure that would have removed pharmacy-ownership restrictions should know that their opponents were well financed.

North Dakota residents who last year rejected a ballot measure that would have removed pharmacy-ownership restrictions should know that their opponents were well financed.

According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), Walmart spent $9.3 million to aid efforts to eliminate a state law requiring that a pharmacist hold the majority ownership of pharmacies in the state.

North Dakota keeps pharmacy-ownership law

Walmart was one of many corporations and business trade groups that, in 2014, spent $272 million to either support or oppose ballot measures across the nation, CPI reported. The lobbying efforts of the corporations and business trade groups were successful 96% of the time.

“There’s no question that when business or corporations or entities that are affected by ballot initiatives give to the ballot initiative process, they're not doing so out of altruism," Joseph Tuman, a professor of political and legal communications at San Francisco State University, told CPI. "They’re doing so out of rational self-interest." 

Despite the influx of cash from Walmart, North Dakota voters decided to remain the only state that prevents big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target from providing prescription medicines to consumers. Nearly 60% of voters opposed changing state rules for owning a pharmacy.


The decades-old, pharmacy-ownership laws have been debated in North Dakota for years. In fact, a similar measure did not make it to state voters four years ago because of a procedural filing error. State legislators have blocked several other attempts to eliminate the pharmacy-ownership requirement.

“I would hope the people of North Dakota have spoken,” Steve Boehning, president of the North Dakota Pharmacists Association, told the Bismarck Tribune following last year’s ballot measure. “It’s been defeated legally and legislatively and now by the public.”

Many of those who supported a change in the law complained it is outdated, limits pharmacy ownership, and results in higher prescription drug costs for residents. “Retail chains often offer prescriptions for less, even as low as $4, but the important thing is the individual is in charge of his or her own choices, as opposed to government picking for them,” Mike Peterson, from the nonprofit Options: Resource Center for Independent Living, wrote in advance of Election Day urging voters to change the law. “We understand the concerns by many in regards to the size and scope of big box retailers, however the people we serve are negatively affected by not being able to access affordable prescriptions at the locations they prefer.”

Many pharmacists, as well as the majority of voters, were not swayed by the price-reduction arguments. “How I wish there were other states like this. Big box stores killed pharmacy all for profit. Don't let them fool you it's about caring about the customer and lower prices,” One pharmacist commented on Drug Topics’ website. “It's all about profits and unfortunately now also exploiting pharmacists. The sad thing is we as pharmacists let this happen.”

Another pharmacist wrote: “It would be interesting to evaluate whether outcomes, adherence, compliance, and other measures being cited as rationale for expanding the scope of practice and provider status are markedly improved over states that do not have such restrictions on pharmacy ownership. If not, North Dakota may be employed as an obstacle against provider-status initiatives in that there doesn't seem to be any demonstrable advantage to increased pharmacist involvement in therapeutic outcomes. You'd think that ownership would be the biggest "stick" and "carrot" for the provision of such services.”

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