The Nevada Assembly last week voted 29 to 12 to require the executive branch to help Nevadans buy cheaper Canadian prescription drugs.

Although most votes came from Democrats, it was (contrary to some reports) not a party-line vote. Four of the 17 Republicans joined Democrats to approve the measure. Such legislation has drawn warnings from federal officials.

Many states have already taken similar actions, typically setting up Web sites or adding links to state Web sites that direct patients to Canadian pharmacies. Other states, including Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and Kansas, have actually gotten into the business of importing drugs themselves after they scrutinize and approve Canadian firms.

The Nevada measure, sponsored by Assembly Democratic floor leader Barbara Buckley, wasn’t portrayed as anything more than a stopgap measure. Its supporters said it could serve as a tool to help hard-pressed patients deal with high drug costs.

Assemblyman Garn Mabey, himself a physician, said Canadian drug costs are low because of price controls in that nation, and U.S. governments shouldn’t encourage such controls because it undercuts the ability of U.S. companies to recover the money they invest in developing drugs.

“If every government in the world set prices that were artificially low, there’d be no incentive to develop new medication. “I cannot think of one medication discovered and developed in Canada.” (Montelukast, known commercially as Singulair, and rofecoxib, known as Vioxx, were both developed in Canada.)

The day before the Assembly vote, the Drug Enforcement Administration began busting U.S. Web pages that sell prescription drugs online, but the DEA hasn’t yet taken on a state government.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...