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Fargo man leads initiative to legalize medical marijuana

FARGO - Six months after a bill to legalize medical marijuana died in the state Legislature, a Fargo man is leading an effort to put the question to the voters.

Medical marijuana is displayed. REUTERS / MARIO ANZUONI
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FARGO – Six months after a bill to legalize medical marijuana died in the state Legislature, a Fargo man is leading an effort to put the question to the voters.

Rilie Ray Morgan has formed a committee and is preparing to submit an initiative to the Secretary of State's Office, with the expectation that it would make the 2016 general election ballot.

Despite the failure this year of House Bill 1430, which would have legalized and regulated medical cannabis, Morgan says he is optimistic that a majority of North Dakotans will support legalization.

"This is a good opportunity to let the people's voices of North Dakota be heard. The Republican-led House and Senate are obviously awfully conservative" and do not reflect popular sentiment, said Morgan, a 64-year-old financial planner.

Marijuana is a tool that should be available to doctors with suffering patients, said Morgan, who has undergone several back surgeries.


During one recovery, he was given morphine, which took away the excruciating pain. But the drug comes with risks, he said, and marijuana would be a much safer option.

Twenty-three states recognize the usefulness of marijuana and allow it for medical purposes. Minnesota, which legalized it this year, allows its use for patients living with a long list of conditions, including cancer, AIDS, seizures, and terminal illnesses with a life expectancy of less than one year.

Marty Riske, a 68-year-old business owner, said the case for medical marijuana is simple: "Do we offer virtue and mercy to people who are ill and allow them to use something that is demonstrated to work?"

Riske, who is on the North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana with Morgan, said he regrets refusing to get marijuana for a friend who was suffering from a severe illness.

"I was afraid to," said Riske, whose friend was undergoing chemotherapy and died quickly. "I didn't want my name out there doing something like that. And now I feel like I was a chicken."

Now Riske is advocating for legalization, based on his philosophy that "prohibition is really harming the country, and we found that out with the prohibition of alcohol."

Morgan says he is still working on the details of the initiative, which may look similar to the bill that failed in a 26-67 vote in the House in February.

Testimony on the bill included parents talking about how they hoped medical cannabis would help with their sick children's pain and seizures.

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