Measure 7 on the ballot next week would repeal North Dakota’s pharmacy protection law which prohibits ownership of pharmacies by non-pharmacists.
Not surprisingly, the people who already own pharmacies in North Dakota love the law. And why wouldn’t they? It severely limits competition. Maybe I should lobby for a bill to prohibit the access of websites owned by non-North Dakotans from inside the state. That would sure be good for SAB and my bottom line.
Of course, I’d never do that, because I believe in a free market.
But the debate over Measure 7 has been portrayed, by opponents of the measure, as small-town, independent pharmacists versus “bix box” retailers like Walmart which want to move into the pharmacy business in the state. And that’s at least somewhat true. It’s no secret that Walmart wants access to North Dakota’s market and has spent millions on the campaign for Measure 7.
Yet there’s another way of looking at this. What about pharmacists who might want to start a new venture but lack the capital? What about current pharmacy owners who want to retire, but can’t find another pharmacist with the financials to buy the business?
This aspect of the Measure 7 debate has often been overlooked.
I thought about it recently when talking to a SAB reader who is a pharmacist in a community in the state (who wishes to remain unnamed given how vicious anti-Measure 7 activists have been in attacking supporters). He told me that he is thinking of retirement and would like to sell his business so that a) he can get some cash for retirement and b) the business can go on serving the community it is in.
The problem is that this pharmacist can’t find another pharmacist who has the capital to buy the business.
Now, in any other type of business, that wouldn’t necessary be a problem. We don’t require that an auto-repair shop be owned by a mechanic. We don’t require restaurants to be owned by chefs. In other types of business, someone who has the capital can take an ownership stake in the business and then partner with or hire professionals to run the day-to-day operations.
Pharmacists can’t do this. Unlike every other business in the state, a pharmacist can only sell his/her business to another pharmacist.
Now this is great if you want to stifle flourishing competition in the pharmacy marketplace , but not so good for consumers who benefit from competition.
Imagine you’re a hot-shot young pharmacist fresh out of college with some great ideas for a pharmacy business. You know the right place. You have a sound business model. But you lack the access to capital you need to open the business.
Again, if you were a mechanic or a chef, you could partner with someone who could take an ownership stake to get the financing you need. But not if you’re a pharmacist.
Because North Dakota’s laws don’t allow that. Not because it benefits North Dakota citizens or pharmacists looking to break into the market, but because it protects the rich pharmacists who are already in the market and want to protect it from competition.
That needs to change.