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Medical marijuana supporter cites possibility of lawsuit as legislators change law approved by voters

BISMARCK-A Fargo man who led efforts to place the medical marijuana measure on the ballot floated the possibility of a lawsuit or another initiated measure in testifying against proposed changes to the law during a North Dakota legislative commit...

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Medical marijuana being grown in Minnnesota. File photo
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BISMARCK-A Fargo man who led efforts to place the medical marijuana measure on the ballot floated the possibility of a lawsuit or another initiated measure in testifying against proposed changes to the law during a North Dakota legislative committee Tuesday, March 21.

Rilie Ray Morgan, who chaired the committee that pushed the Compassionate Care Act, opposed a Senate bill that amends the law voters chose to put on the books in November.

"We don't believe that the state Legislature needs or wants a lawsuit concerning (the medical marijuana law)," he told the House Human Services Committee Tuesday. "Our committee doesn't really want to do a repeal and replace initiated measure in two years."

In an interview, Morgan said "we haven't really pursued (a potential lawsuit) all that much." He hoped the testimony lawmakers heard Tuesday will push them to roll back changes included in Senate Bill 2344, which is sponsored by legislative leaders from both parities.

"We'll have to play it by ear," Morgan said.

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Medical marijuana supporters told the committee personal stories of medical hardship in arguing lawmakers should make the product more affordable and available in additional forms.

Linda Kersten chastised lawmakers for their decision to "hijack" the medical marijuana law.

"We're the ones who voted it in, and yet we're down here to try and see what we can get from you, (to) beg from you," she said, pointing out that almost 64 percent of voters approved the initiated measure that resulted in the medical marijuana law.

But lawmakers said the bill is needed to provide adequate regulations over the product, which is still illegal under federal law.

"We're committed to doing this right," said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the legislation's primary sponsor. "Because once the horse is out of the barn, you're not going to get it back."

The bill allows four manufacturing facilities and eight dispensaries to sell marijuana while prohibiting patients and caregivers from growing their own plants. It allows adult patients to smoke marijuana if a physician attests that no other form of would be effective.

The bill will need the support of two-thirds of House lawmakers because it amends a recently passed measure. The Senate passed the bill in a 40-6 vote a month ago.

Senate Human Services Committee Chairwoman Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, expects the bill to end up in conference committee to iron out differences between what the Senate voted on and what the House may pass.

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"They'll have their way with it the same way we did," she said. "We certainly didn't think it was perfect when it left our committee. We just tuned it up as much as we possibly could in the time available to us."

Arvy Smith, deputy health officer at the North Dakota Department of Health, expects medical marijuana to be available for purchase about a year from now.

The Department of Health expects to need a nearly $1.1 million general fund appropriation for the upcoming two-year budget cycle to administer the medical marijuana program. The bill requires revenue generated by the program to cover the department's costs by the 2019-21 biennium.

"I think we're going to learn a lot this first biennium," Smith said. "We're using every resource we can get our hands on to move it forward."

Related Topics: RICH WARDNER
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