State Sues Latino Stores For Illicit Rx

State sues Latino stores for illicit Rx

By Jimmy DeButts
The Birmingham Business Journal (AL), July 7, 2008

Three Latino-owned businesses face legal repercussions after being accused of selling pharmaceuticals without a license by the state of Alabama.

The Alabama State Board of Pharmacy is suing Hoover-based Tienda La Mexicana, Tienda La Mexicana II and El Mercado and seeking an injunction to shut down their pharmaceutical operations. The Tienda La Mexicana businesses are convenience stores that cater to Latino clientele.

El Mercado, located off Colonial Drive, is a grocery store.

In the lawsuit, filed June 20 in Jefferson County Circuit Court, the state claims the businesses sold prescription drugs without a license.

Cultural differences and unfamiliarity with required licenses are partly to blame for mistakes made by immigrant entrepreneurs, Hispanic advocates say.

The owners of the Tienda La Mexicana properties and El Mercado do not have traditional pharmacies. They are accused of selling antibiotics 'under the counter' without a license, according to a source familiar with the case. A hearing for the case is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Attempts to reach the owners of each business and Tienda La Mexicana II attorney Sam Holmes were unsuccessful.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, it is common for local grocery stores to sell pharmaceuticals over the counter without a prescription, according to Hernn Prado.

Prado, a member of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce's Hispanic Business Council, said information of what is required for new businesses is available from the chamber.

He said the Hoover businesses' trials will serve to educate future entrepreneurs.

'That's a hard way to learn, but it's the university of life,' Prado said. 'This will set a good example for other stores as they consider the liability.'

Pharmacy Board Chief Investigator Henry Burks said it is the board's policy not to discuss ongoing litigation. However, he said any business that seeks to sell pharmaceuticals must apply with the board for a license, meet certain pharmacy requirements and register with the federal government.

Wendy Padilla Madden, chair of the chamber's Hispanic Business Council and an attorney with Balch & Bingham LLP, said language barriers and a 'fairly complex' legal system can lead to unintended consequences for recent immigrant businesspeople. She said immigrant entrepreneurs generally know they must secure a business license but aren't aware they need more specific licenses for other services.

'They might think, 'Once we have a business license, we can buy and sell,'' Madden said. 'Hispanic business owners want to be law-abiding and compliant. Once they know how to do it, they will remain compliant.'