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Published August 08, 2012, 11:30 PM

Medical marijuana measure expands Health Dept. duties

BISMARCK – A proposal to allow North Dakotans to use marijuana as medicine would put the Health Department in charge of vetting the business plans of dispensaries, checking home pot gardens and reviewing the drug’s labeling and potency.

By: Associated Press, INFORUM

BISMARCK – A proposal to allow North Dakotans to use marijuana as medicine would put the Health Department in charge of vetting the business plans of dispensaries, checking home pot gardens and reviewing the drug’s labeling and potency.

The citizen initiative gives doctors the option of deciding whether to prescribe marijuana as a remedy for pain and nausea. Hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities could ban marijuana smoking and refuse to store or provide the drug for patients, but could not ban marijuana brownies and other forms of consumption.

Terry Dwelle, the Health Department’s chief administrator, said Wednesday the agency would explore the proposal’s potential budget effects.

“There would be a significant impact on the Health Department, and on the resources we would have to put into this,” Dwelle said. “This will be a choice the people of North Dakota will need to make.”

Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative turned in about 20,000 signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger this week, seeking to put the proposed state law directly on the November ballot. Jaeger has about a month to review the petition, which needs at least 13,452 valid signatures from North Dakota voters to qualify for a statewide vote.

Arvy Smith, the Health Department’s deputy state health officer, said the agency would not be likely to start analyzing the proposal’s potential impact until late September, after the department has finished work on its next two-year budget.

“There can be some significant differences in the type and amount of regulation that’s needed, depending on the language of the bill, and we’re just not anywhere near that type of analysis yet,” Smith said.

The proposed initiative blends elements of medical marijuana laws in the 17 states that allow doctors to recommend it, said Dave Schwartz, the campaign’s director.

It puts the Health Department in charge of licensing dispensaries and registering eligible marijuana users, who would be allowed to grow a limited amount of pot for their own use and possess up to 2.5 ounces at a time. The licensing process would include background checks of medical marijuana providers and a review of their business plans.

Marijuana would be sold only through licensed dispensaries, and the initiative limits their number to eight – one each in Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks, Morton, Stark, Stutsman, Ward and Williams counties.

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