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A Senate bill rewriting language of Measure 5 would institute $300 fees for applicants wanting medical marijuana cards and a $100,000 fee for certification of compassion centers that would manufacture and dispense the substance.

Proponents of Measure 5, which passed in November with nearly 64 percent of the vote, are upset over changes to virtually all of the language to their initiative and its replacement with a proposed 81-page Senate Bill 2344. State officials counter that changes are necessary as the law, in its existing form, is unworkable and requires more stringent oversight and guidelines.

Fargo resident Rilie Ray Morgan, who spearheaded the Measure 5 campaign, minced no words on SB2344.

“It’s a punch in the gut to the patients of North Dakota, and a slap in the face to the voters of North Dakota,” Morgan said.

He said the bill's application and certification fees are out of line. The fees in Measure 5 were a fraction of what’s proposed in SB2344, which is slated for debate on Wednesday morning in the Brynhild Haugland Room.

SB2344 limits the amount purchased in a 30-day period at 2.5 ounces and limits possession to 3 ounces. Pill, oil and liquid forms of the substance would be allowed for patients and only oils permitted for minors.

Measure 5, by comparison, allows for people to have up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana in a 14-day period for treatment of up to nearly a dozen medical conditions. Facilities for medical marijuana distribution would be licensed by the state Health Department and be operated by nonprofit organizations. Those who live more than 40 miles from a licensed facility would be able to grow up to eight marijuana plants after providing notification to law enforcement as long as they’re grown in an enclosed facility.

Morgan questioned not allowing smoking or vaping of medical marijuana as well as limiting minors to using only medical marijuana oils.

“They’re playing doctor with the patients of North Dakota,” said Morgan, who expects to have a large contingent of supporters from all corners of the state make their case to lawmakers.

“There’s a line in the sand where you’ve kinda got to say, ‘hey hold on, this is way too far,’” Morgan said.

A nonpartisan effort

SB2344 primary sponsor Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, called the bill a nonpartisan effort to get the right program in place for North Dakotans.

“They’re going to get medical marijuana,” said Wardner, who indicated enforcement and cost are of concern to lawmakers.

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Two-thirds legislative majority votes will be needed to change the wording, which Wardner says can be achieved.

Visual aids

Rep. Pam Anderson, D-Fargo, a supporter of medical marijuana, devised a visual aid to display the degree of change between the language of the measure and SB2344.

Anderson took a copy of the 33-page Measure 5 and used a yellow highlighter for every word that had been struck out in favor of proposed changes via SB2344. Every word of the measure except for the first line, which is the title of the new law, was yellow. Anderson’s highlighter ran out of ink halfway through the process.

“It’s not at all what the voters approved. I don’t know how you can take out every word,” Anderson said. “If we’re the people’s house and we don’t listen to the majority of people in the state, then we’re not to the people’s house."

Mary Rennich, a Bismarck resident who worked to pass Measure 5, said she’s waiting on a viable program to be up and running in order to treat her son, who has lissencephaly, a malformation of the brain which can cause severe mental disability, poor motor functions and other symptoms, including seizures.

Rennich said her son has had regular and severe seizures for around 25 years; she and her husband never know when a seizure might take his life.

She said medical marijuana is a last resort that could help ease her son’s suffering after trying virtually every medication on the market.

“I have faith that they’ll make the right, intelligent choices to do what the voters voted for,” Rennich said.

Courtney Koebele, executive director of North Dakota Medical Association, said the organization, with a stance that marijuana has not received any approvals from the federal government for medical use, supports SB2344, standing by its belief shared during the Measure 5 debate. 

“I think this bill’s moving in the right direction,” Koebele said of SB2344. “We still question the validity of medical marijuana.”

A cost estimate the Health Department released to Legislative Management last fall put the cost for the 2017-19 biennium for implementation at about $7.35 million and up to 32 full-time staff. Department estimates also put the impact on the Bureau of Criminal Investigation per biennium at nearly $2.8 million with a need for 15 additional full-time staff.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2154 in January, suspending enactment of parts of Measure 5 relating to the application process until the main marijuana legislation is passed or until July 31, whichever comes first.

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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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