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UPDATE: Medical marijuana bill more closely aligned to voter-passed measure OK'd in ND House

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota House passed a rewrite of the state’s medical marijuana law Tuesday, April 4, that one supporter said is “light years” ahead of lawmakers’ original proposal but still has flaws.

Senate Bill 2344 passed in a 79-13 vote a day after the House Human Services Committee approved it. The bill is expected to head to a conference committee, where lawmakers will discuss differences between the House and Senate versions before it goes to the governor.

The bill was introduced by legislative leadership after the passage of the initiated measure known as the Compassionate Care Act in November. Lawmakers have said better regulations were needed over a product that remains illegal under federal law, but medical marijuana supporters have criticized legislators for proposing changes to the measure they passed.

Rilie Ray Morgan, a Fargo man who chaired the committee that pushed Measure 5, said while the bill is “light years” ahead of lawmakers’ initial proposal, he worries the fees charged to manufacturing facilities and dispensaries could make the product less affordable for patients. The bill sets the biennial fee for dispensaries at $90,000 and $110,000 for manufacturing facilities.

Qualifying patients would pay an annual $50 fee, which was lowered from the $200 fee included in the Senate’s version. The House also removed a provision requiring physicians who authorize patients to smoke medical marijuana to attest that it’s the only form that would be effective.

Along with smoking, the bill allows for tinctures, capsules, transdermal patches, topicals and “cannabinoid concentrates.”

Morgan said edibles should be allowed, along with a provision included in the original measure that allowed patients living more than 40 miles from a facility to cultivate their own marijuana plants.

Morgan, who previously floated the possibility of a lawsuit or second initiated measure over the Legislature’s proposed changes to the law, said medical marijuana supporters can live with the House’s version of the bill “for now.”

“We’re still very concerned about whether this is going to be a viable bill going forward,” he said. “If it’s not working down the road, certainly we’ll think about doing another initiated measure two years from now.”

Still, Morgan commended the House Human Services Committee for its diligent work on the bill, a sentiment that was echoed on the House floor.

House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said the committee’s work “proved that we can work together in a bipartisan way to address the concerns of North Dakotans and to enact reasonable legislation.”

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said the bill isn’t perfect but gives people “reasonable, cost-effective access” to medical marijuana, helps prevent illegal diversion and ensures safety.

“I think what we have here is a product that will work,” he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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