Supporters of a medical marijuana initiative in North Dakota have collected enough signatures to qualify the measure for a ballot.
Come November, voters in North Dakota will be faced with an initiative that could legalize medical marijuana. North Dakota’s Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced on August 12 that the initiative had acquired enough signatures to appear on the ballot on November 8.
Backers of the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act turned in 17,600 signatures last month. They needed just 13,500.
If the ballot initiative passes, it will make it legal for North Dakota residents with a recommendation from a licensed physician to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes. Under the law, patients would be prohibited from smoking marijuana in public or at work, and they would not be exempt from laws against driving while impaired.
Patients would be able to acquire medicinal cannabis from a state-licensed dispensary. For patients that need assistance, a caregiver could be designated to pick up the medical marijuana from the dispensary. Those living further than 40 miles from a dispensary would be allowed to grow up to eight plants at home for personal use.
The list of “debilitating medical conditions” approved under the law would include cancer and its treatments, HIV and AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis or chronic pain related to neuropathy or damage to the spinal cord, glaucoma and epilepsy. Additionally, patients with any condition that causes cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe debilitating pain that has not responded to previous treatments, intractable nausea, seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms would be allowed legal access to medicinal marijuana.
North Dakota’s Health Department would be tasked with managing and regulating the creation of licensed cultivation, testing, and retail facilities. The department would license nonprofit dispensaries, or compassionate care centers, to cultivate and dispense the medical cannabis. Applicants interested in a dispensary license would need to pay a $5,000 non-refundable application fee, and if approved, a $25,000 licensing fee. The department would also issue ID cards for patients.
The level of support for the initiative is unknown, as the last poll on medical marijuana performed in North Dakota was in 2014. That survey found that just 47 percent of North Dakota voters were in favor, compared to 41 percent who were opposed and 9 percent that were undecided. A nationwide shift toward marijuana acceptance over the past couple of years, however, suggests that voters in North Dakota could be open to legalizing cannabis for medical purposes. A medical marijuana bill was in the North Dakota legislature last year but was defeated by the House.
Opponents to the initiative are claiming the program would cost too much to set up. The Health Department has estimated setting up the program would cost $8.7 million in the first biennium, including $1.4 million in one-time costs, and require the addition of 32 full-time employees. However, supporters are insisting that the initial costs to get the ball rolling are worth offering relief to suffering patients.
“At what cost is my child and these other children’s lives worth?,” Wiese-Trenbeath said of the costs. “The start-up will be expensive, but in the long run they will save money and lives. We are 100 percent behind the times. It’s time to catch up.”
So far, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive medical marijuana legislation. Two additional states besides North Dakota – Arkansas and Florida — will be voting on medicinal cannabis initiatives in November.