FARGO - The seeds of medical marijuana will soon be planted in North Dakota, but pot proponents are aiming higher.
All three major political affiliations were represented alongside two Fargo attorneys for a forum on legalizing marijuana dubbed the "Pre 4/20 Pot Party" at North Dakota State University on Wednesday, April 18.
Bradley Foster, president of the NDSU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the idea of hosting the forum was to have a rational conversation among the community that involves complex social issues.
The forum, held a few days before a highly celebrated occasion in cannabis culture, April 20, was timely because there is a petition circulating that aims to garner enough signatures for a vote on the full legalization of adult use for marijuana.
Almost 64 percent of voters in North Dakota approved legalizing medical marijuana in 2016.
But patients can't yet register or apply for a medical marijuana card because the North Dakota Department of Health said cards are only valid for one year and products won't be available until later this year. Meanwhile the department has opened applications up for entities interested in becoming a registered marijuana manufacturing facility and is accepting proposals for a laboratory to conduct compliance testing.
Democratic Rep. Gretchen Dobervich said the medical marijuana program is "slow to come to fruition" and no one is benefiting from the program yet. She said medical marijuana is an issue important to her personally as she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and her only treatment option is opioids.
Like Republican Rep. Tom Kading, the two legislators from opposing sides of the aisle agree that medical marijuana could offset the opioid epidemic, which is the case in states that have legal weed.
Kading said generally most Republicans are open to some sort of change, such as the way marijuana-related offenses are prosecuted. But he said there's a huge spectrum of how conservatives view cannabis, a sentiment shared by Dobervich. She said some of her Democratic colleagues don't support medical marijuana, while others are for full legalization.
Libertarian Timothy Sizemore, who is running for a District 27 North Dakota House seat, said marijuana can be life-saving for veterans suffering from PTSD, among a long list of other medical conditions to benefit from marijuana use.
Attorneys Bruce Quick and Mark Friese addressed the issues of incarceration and collateral consequences of marijuana-related offenses. While cannabis remains a Schedule I drug - the tightest restriction with no accepted medical use - Friese said clearly there are acceptable uses.