Mass. Canadian Drug Bill Passes First Stage

March 18, 2004 ( - A Massachusetts bill aimed at making cheaper prescriptions drugs from Canada available to state residents has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Health Care approved a bill this week that would require the state to seek federal permission to help citizens buy drugs from Canada. The bill now heads to the state Senate for the next legislative whistle-stop, according to a Boston Globe report.

Under provisions of the bill, if the federal government grants permission for the state’s citizens to purchase prescription medicine from Canada, the state would then set up a Web site listing Canadian pharmacies selling online. This would give residents of the Bay State a chance to save an estimated 30% to 80% on the price of similar prescription drugs in the United States.

The bill may never have a chance to make an impact though. Last year, similar legislation died without even clearing a joint committee and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney publicly opposed state-sponsored Canadian importation, saying Massachusetts should not violate federal laws. Asked about his feelings toward the last bill, a spokeswoman for Romney offered the Globe no comment since Romney had not yet seen the latest bill.

Even with the governor’s blessing, the state’s chances of receiving the federal go-ahead stand somewhere between slim and none. The federal watchdogs of the pharmaceutical industry, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have declared the importation of drugs from Canada is illegal.

However, the FDA’s bark has no bite, as the agency has yet to punish any of the very public offenders. Recently, governors in Minnesota and Wisconsin established Web sites to guide their residents to Canadian pharmacies, double dog daring the FDA to shut them down if they are breaking the law. The FDA, while calling the sites illegal, as-of-yet has not attempted to put a stop to the practice.