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Measure to legalize medical marijuana in N.D. will appear on November ballot

BISMARCK - North Dakotans will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for medical use, Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Thursday, and at least one police chief already is raising concerns about unintended consequences of the propos...

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Jody Testaberg, propagation manager at LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove, examines marijuana plants that will be used in the state's medical cannibis programs. Hundreds of plants are carefully cultivated in the room lit with sodium vapor lamps so bright that the workers routinely use sunglasses. Bob King / Forum News Service

BISMARCK – North Dakotans will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for medical use, Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Thursday, and at least one police chief already is raising concerns about unintended consequences of the proposed law.

Sponsors of the initiated measure needed at least 13,452 signatures to put their Compassionate Care Act on the Nov. 8 ballot. They delivered 18,011 signatures to Jaeger last month, and 17,217 were accepted as qualified electors.

Sponsoring committee chairman Rilie Ray Morgan of Fargo said it was “pretty gratifying” to see so many signatures collected by the 107 volunteers who circulated petitions.

Backers are still discussing their campaign strategy but will likely call on volunteers again to knock on doors and hand out brochures, Morgan said. He hopes to have a fundraising website set up by next week.

“We’ve done this on a shoestring budget, but obviously we’d like to get some donations so we can do some advertising, as well,” he said.

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If approved, the measure will allow qualifying patients to possess up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana for treatment of about a dozen debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, AIDS and glaucoma, while allowing the state Department of Health to add more.

The Health Department would issue ID cards for patients and regulate state-licensed dispensaries. People living more than 40 miles from the nearest dispensary could grow up to eight marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked facility after notifying law enforcement.

In a memo last month, the department estimated the measure would require adding 32 full-time employees and cost $8.7 million to administer in the first biennium, including $1.4 million in one-time costs – figures Morgan has criticized as fearmongering.

Morgan said he’s not aware of any organized opposition but expects the measure may encounter resistance from law enforcement and state legislators. House lawmakers defeated a bill last year to legalize medical marijuana.

“It’s going to be a process of educating the medical community, too, but I don’t think they’ll be against it, per se,” he said.

West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan has written a letter to the editor and spoken to community groups to share his hesitations about the measure, including the brief 30-day timeline that agencies will have to set up rules and procedures if the law passes. He’s also concerned that the definition of “usable marijuana” is too broad in allowing for “any mixture” of dried marijuana leaves and flowers.

“There’s so many unintended consequences,” he said.

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Morgan said the measure is modeled mostly after Delaware’s medical marijuana law, with parts also drawn from Arizona and Montana, Morgan said. He acknowledged the 34 pages of proposed amendments to North Dakota law “might be overly complex,” but he said no piece of legislation is perfect.

“We wanted to make it relatively restrictive so people didn’t have concerns that it was going to be the Wild Wild West of marijuana in North Dakota,” he said.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing medical marijuana, though it remains an illegal Schedule I substance under federal law.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday it would keep marijuana on the Schedule I list, saying it “does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”

Sponsors of a separate measure to fully legalize marijuana in North Dakota didn’t collect the required signatures by the deadline for the November election but said they’ll shoot for the June 2018 ballot.

Jaeger said he will release the numbering Friday for the five measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The other statutory measures propose raising the state’s tobacco tax and expanding crime victims’ rights. A constitutional measure would prohibit lawmakers from serving in the Legislature unless they live in the district where they were elected, and a second constitutional measure would allow excess money in the state’s Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund to be used for education purposes other than offsetting cuts to school funding when a revenue shortfall occurs.

Related Topics: AL JAEGER
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