BISMARCK — North Dakota House lawmakers agreed to expand the state’s medical marijuana law Monday, Feb. 18, passing four bills aimed at the statutes stemming from a successful 2016 ballot measure.
One bill passed by the legislators would add 13 new medical conditions that qualify for the program, including anxiety disorder, migraines and autism. The others are aimed at alleviating physician concerns over signing off on the federally illegal drug, allowing cancer patients to purchase and possess more dried cannabis leaves and permitting edible medical marijuana products.
The House’s votes, which all exceeded the two-thirds threshold needed to amend a recent ballot measure, send the bills to the Senate for consideration.
The closest bill to failing and drawing any sort of disagreement was the bill dealing with edible products that passed on a 72-21 vote. It would be added to other medical marijuana products that include dried flowers, concentrated oils, capsules, patches and topicals.
Opponents were mostly concerned about the edible products falling into the hands of children.
Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden, said he realized products might be helpful to some but he argued that the "only real credible evidence" is that a child or young person's mind into their early 20s can be damaged by marijuana use and that the Legislature shouldn't be misleading the public because marijuana is still a federally illegal drug.
However, Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, D-Fargo, said the the packaging on edibles would be clearly marked, including letting people know that it can take two to four hours for effects to be felt because it was being digested.
She also said like the other medical marijuana products or any medications they should be locked up or out of the reach of children or minors.
"It would be irresponsible parenting if it wasn't," she said.
Rep. Greg Westlind, R-Cando, agreed that there would be strict packaging and marketing and that such products as gummy bear edibles wouldn't be allowed. Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, added that Captain Morgan rum might also have an appeal to children with its "real cool pirate" packing on its label, but said any packaging of edibles that would be marketed wouldn't have appeal to children.
As for the bill on other conditions allowed, that passed by an 89-4 margin, those also added would be anorexia, bulimia, Tourette syndrome, Ehler-Danlos syndrome, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, neuropathy, opioid use disorder, opioid withdrawal and Rheumatoid arthritis.
Rep. Matt Ruby, R-Minot, said all of the conditions were cross-referenced with conditions approved in other states.
He said there might be some questions about opioid withdrawal but that it is thought to be another option for people trying to get off the painkiller medication.
Ruby also noted that the bill calls for an interim study commission to look into possible new conditions that could be added.
Another bill expanding the amount of medical marijuana patients with cancer could possess from 2.5 ounces to 6 ounces of dried leaves in a 30-day period because of chemotherapy and the drug's possibility of helping with nausea and vomiting passed by an 89-4 margin.
And the other bill that will allow physician assistants to work with patients on medical marijuana and also protect doctors further in the program by saying they only have to say a person has one of the qualifying medical conditions instead of certifying medical marijuana usage sailed through on a 90-3 vote.
The involvement of doctors in the program has been of concern as some patients were having trouble finding a physician that would agree to sign off on certification. Legislators said they hoped this new law would help ease that problem.
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016 by a wide margin, but lawmakers said the new law was flawed and needed changes. They rewrote the statute during the 2017 session, and the state Department of Health has been working to register dispensaries and growing facilities.
Jason Wahl, the state’s top medical marijuana regulator, said Monday that the state Department of Health expects to make an announcement on the state’s first dispensary by the end of the week.