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Proposed legislation that would make significant changes to a medical marijuana initiative passed by voters last fall will be among the highlights of the final week of floor sessions prior to crossover.

Senate Bill 2344 is expected to move out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning. It’s the final bill Senate appropriators will hear for the first half of the session.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said the meeting will be straightforward since they won’t be addressing any policy issues with SB2344.

Bills to amend a ballot measure must receive a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said it will be on the Senate floor Wednesday for final passage.

“People are working their butts off to make sure that it works,” Wardner said of the bill.

The bill recently was passed out of the Senate Human Services Committee with a series of amendments.

Senate Human Services Committee Chairwoman Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said among the key changes are to allow smoking of medical marijuana, setting fees for manufacturing facilities and dispensaries, readusting fees for user identification cards and lowering the age for classification as a minor from 21 to 19.

The change to allow smoking was an effort in “trying to make sure there are options” for those who might not be able to keep pills or liquid marijuana, such as oils, down.

Lawmakers and state officials have long said the medical marijuana measure passed last November by voters was poorly written. Proponents of the measure have argued SB2344 is an attempt to sidestep what the public wants by watering down the spirit of the law.

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Final sprint 

Legislators remain on pace to complete their first-half work on Thursday and will be using additional daily floor sessions to do so.

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North Dakota Legislative Council figures prior to Friday’s floor sessions showed that the Senate had 43 bills left to act on and three resolutions. This is compared to 77 bills and seven resolutions at this point during the 2015 session.

For the House, a total of 103 bills and 11 resolutions remained prior to Friday. This compared to 113 bills and 21 resolutions in the same period in 2015.

Wardner said the Senate will have 10 a.m. floor sessions beginning Tuesday in addition to the normal 1 p.m. sessions. The Senate expects to finish up on Thursday morning.

On the House side, majority leadership said it will begin having morning sessions on Tuesday, beginning at 9 a.m. The House aims to finish before noon on Thursday. 

“It’s been a fast-moving first half,” said Wardner, adding some lawmakers have had far fewer bills to work on and more down time than in past sessions.

As of Friday, the projected budget gap lawmakers will need to reconcile for the 2017-19 biennium was sitting at $420 million. A significant projected shortfall is normal at this point in the process, according to Wardner.

An early highlight of the second half of session will be an updated revenue forecast, tentatively set for release on March 9.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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