BISMARCK – The chairman of a group that wants to legalize medical marijuana in North Dakota said they will submit a petition Tuesday to the Secretary of State's Office for approval so they can start gathering signatures to try to put the measure to voters next year.
Rilie Ray Morgan, a financial adviser from Fargo, said he's optimistic about the measure's chances, despite state lawmakers snuffing out a similar bill in February.
"Even though we are a conservative state, I think most of the voters in this state would view this as an alternative to prescription drugs that we know are harmful," he said.
If the petition language is approved, the 27-member North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana and its volunteers will have to gather 13,452 valid signatures by July 11 to get the statutory measure on the November 2016 general election ballot.
The measure would make it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana for treatment of about a dozen debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy and chronic back pain. The state Department of Health could add conditions to the list.
Medical marijuana would be available through dispensaries set up by nonprofit organizations and licensed by the Health Department. People living more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow up to eight marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked facility after notifying local law enforcement.
Morgan, 65, said he suffers from chronic back pain and neuropathy in his right leg. He said he takes prescription medication and hasn't used marijuana to treat his pain.
"I would like the opportunity to at least discuss it with my health professional and have that option, rather than some of these highly addictive opioids," he said.
Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, including neighboring Minnesota and Montana. Morgan said the proposed 22-page "North Dakota Compassionate Care Act" is modeled mainly after Delaware's law, but also draws language from Arizona and Montana statutes.
He said the measure would not allow the use of medical marijuana in public.
"It doesn't allow people to go down to (Fargo's) Lindenwood Park and toke up," he said.
House lawmakers voted 26-67 in February to defeat a bill to legalize medical marijuana. They also voted 32-61 in March to reject a bipartisan resolution requiring an interim study of the issue.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem testified in February about his concerns regarding the failed bill, including that it would allow people to grow their own marijuana, bypassing the normal process for the approval and dispensing of prescription drugs.
"Morphine is legal, but you don't get to grow poppies in your basement," he said in an interview Monday.