updated 12/23/2003 12:14:06 PM ET 2003-12-23T17:14:06

A plan by New Hampshire’s governor to import cheaper U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada, in violation of federal law, is winning support from the Democratic presidential candidates.

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In separate interviews Monday, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean both applauded Republican Gov. Craig Benson’s efforts, including his willingness to break the law.

“Good for New Hampshire for bucking the powerful special interests,” said Kerry, adding that as president he would ensure that states “never have to break the law to give seniors access to affordable medication.”

Dean said the decision is “probably the one thing Governor Benson and I agree on.”

Price controls affect price
Canadian price controls make drugs cheaper there, up to 60 percent below U.S. prices in some cases.

Benson announced Dec. 9 that he wants to start buying drugs from Canada for prison inmates and some Medicaid recipients. Federal law forbids importing drugs from Canada unless the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services certifies their safety. The department so far has refused to do so.

Benson, a multimillionaire entrepreneur who took office in January, has said he will seek a waiver from the department, but has made it clear he plans to proceed regardless.

Federal officials already have cracked down on a similar plan in Springfield, Mass., and plans are under consideration by officials in Illinois and several other states.

Dean, who leads in New Hampshire polls, said the plan could eventually lead to cheaper U.S. drug prices.

“If you allow pharmacists, wholesalers and individuals to get the best deals they can, that’s competition and that brings prices down,” Dean said.

Sharpton, Gephardt also back Benson
The Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, who called access to affordable medicine a human right, and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri also support Benson.

“Not only do I support him, I challenge him to choose a date,” Sharpton said Monday. “I’ll go with him to Canada, buy the drugs and come back and risk arrest with him.”

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards believes such a plan would hurt local pharmacies by taking away business, although he recognizes the need for it, spokesman Colin Van Ostern said. He said Edwards did not know enough about Benson’s plan to comment on its legality.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman called Benson’s move “a protest against a system that is unfair in which the American purchasers of prescription drugs are being unfairly charged for almost all of the costs that drug companies have.”

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark has said he supports amending federal law to allow for the purchase of prescriptions drugs from Canada, but doesn’t encourage people to break the law.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich said he supports the import plan and hopes to discuss it with Benson.

Former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun said Benson’s plan raises important issues. But like Clark, she added that she never would encourage people to break the law.

“It’s an outrage that people can buy drugs cheaper in Canada than they can here, the same drugs that in many instances are manufactured here in the United States by companies that got our tax dollars to do the research and create them in the first place,” she said.

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