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Editorial: North Dakota should pass 'Melissa's Law' to allow reciprocity of medical pot

The recently reported arrests of two "aging rock stars" at the North Dakota border crossing in Portal made splashy headlines, given the prominence of musicians Melissa Etheridge and Todd Rundgren. Both were entering the United States, on separate occasions, after appearances in Canada. In each case, authorities searched their buses, and dogs detected the possibility of drugs.

Each musician was arrested on misdemeanor charges, and Rundgren has pleaded guilty. Rundgren said he didn't know marijuana was illegal in North Dakota. In fact, if his bus had crossed the border and entered the state of Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal, his entrance would have been uneventful. Etheridge, in an interview with Variety, was penitent, saying she should have known better. But she also said she has made "hundreds" of border crossings that were less robust, such as the use of drug-sniffing dogs. "I've never had a search like that," she said. It makes us wonder: Were these two entertainers targeted? Regardless, don't law enforcement officers have something better to do with their time and resources?

These sorts of encounters are likely to become more common along the U.S. border with Canada, where officials might be more lax in enforcing pot offenses. Officials in Canada, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2001, are expected to legalize recreational marijuana as early as July. The impetus: to combat the enormous black market in marijuana. A study has estimated that the legal marijuana market in Canada could be $18 billion annually. Health Canada has recently streamlined the process to get a license to legally dispense marijuana.

We're especially troubled by the arrest of Etheridge, who has been very public about her use of medicinal marijuana. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago and carries a medical marijuana card issued by the state of California, where she lives. It's ironic—and frankly embarrassing—that her arrest came in North Dakota, which last year became the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana, although the state has been slow to implement a system, not yet in place. It seems to us grossly unfair—unjust—that a person who is legally using medical marijuana in her home state can be arrested for pot possession in another state that recognizes medical marijuana.

There ought to be a law granting reciprocity between states or other jurisdictions that legalize medical marijuana for certified users. Medical marijuana, after all, was overwhelmingly approved by North Dakota voters, and also is legal in Minnesota—and Canada. We have the perfect name for such a statute: Melissa's Law.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.

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