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Nation's First Legislated Ban on Pseudoephedrine Sales Nearing Passage

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Local retailers and other industry officials are watching carefully the progress of a bill passed by the Minnesota House last week that would place severe restrictions on the sale of over the counter cough and cold medicines.

The ban, which would go into effect by mid-2006, would eliminate consumer access in Minnesota to all cold and allergy pills that contain pseudoephedrine, a crucial meth ingredient. The only way for consumers to get these tablets in the state would be to visit a doctor and get a written prescription.

Liquid and gel-cap versions of the medications would still be sold without restrictions -- although that could easily change, if those forms of the drug are abused in the future.

Lawmakers are targeting tablets because they yield the pseudoephedrine used in homegrown meth labs. So far, lab busts in Minnesota haven't shown that meth cooks are using liquid or gel-cap formulations of the cold medicines.

The 127-4 vote in favor of the meth package, which would also ratchet up sentences for making the drug, reflected the reach of the highly addictive narcotic, which has been linked to crimes or meth lab accidents in every corner of the state. The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, said no other state legislature has gone as far as banning the cold remedies outright.

Industry sources on the state and national level

The Food Marketing Institute has already called for federal-level regulation of the sale of pseudoephedrine products, most recently in a statement on April 4 from FMI president and c.e.o. Tim Hammonds. When asked specifically about the Minnesota bill yesterday, the association's spokesman declined to comment further, referring instead to the position articulated earlier in the month.

Minnesota retailer/wholesaler Supervalu refused to comment about the bill yesterday; a spokeswoman for the company noted that it wants to wait and see what happens to the legislation in the Senate.

Calls and e-mails soliciting comment from the National Grocers Association and Minnesota-based distributor Nash Finch were not returned at press time yesterday.
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