BISMARCK – Sponsors of a proposed ballot measure that would change North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law to allow national retailers such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens to operate pharmacies in the state can begin circulating their petition for signatures, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Tuesday.

Jaeger has approved the petition format, and now the committee must gather at least 13,452 qualified signatures by Aug. 6 to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The approved petition title states that the measure would amend state law “to remove the requirement that an applicant for a permit to operate a pharmacy must be a licensed pharmacist, a business controlled by licensed pharmacists, or a hospital pharmacy or postgraduate medical residency training program.”

North Dakota is the only state that requires pharmacies to be majority-owned by pharmacists who are licensed in the state.

Opponents of the law argue that lifting the ownership restriction would improve access, create more competition in the marketplace and reduce prescription drug prices. The North Dakota Pharmacists Association supports the existing law and contends it results in better access to pharmaceutical care, especially in rural areas.

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Proponents gathered nearly 14,000 signatures for a similar measure in 2010, but Jaeger rejected the petitions because they weren’t circulated with the list of petition sponsors. At least five attempts to persuade the state Legislature to repeal the law also have failed, most recently in 2011.

A sponsoring committee member said last week that if they don’t meet the deadline for getting the measure on the November ballot, it could be brought forward at a subsequent election.