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North Dakota Senate snuffs out recreational marijuana proposal

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North Dakota's Senate on Thursday soundly defeated joint bills to legalize and tax recreational marijuana. 

The Senate snuffed out House Bill 1420, brought by Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, on a 10-37 vote after more than 30 minutes of debate.

Dockter brought the legalization bill to be "proactive" against citizen-initiated measures to legalize marijuana through the state constitution, as South Dakota voters did in 2020.

North Dakota Senate defeats House Bill 1420 to legalize recreational marijuana, 10-37.

Constitutional measure backers already are proceeding with a 2022 effort. North Dakota voters in 2018 defeated a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, with 59% opposed. Efforts to put the question on the ballot failed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic inhibiting signature gathering. Marijuana remains federally illegal.

"Is it better to let it happen as it likely will eventually, or should we provide some guideposts which would contain its evolution?" said Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo. "North Dakota is surrounded by three states and Canada who have opened up their marijuana laws, and being an island of resistance is probably unsustainable."

The bill mirrored much of the state's medical marijuana program, which the 2017 Legislature implemented after voters approved it in 2016. The bill also would have restricted recreational marijuana to people 21 and older, limited possession to 1 ounce, limited and tracked purchase amounts, limited use to private property and banned home growing.

The bill also would have limited the number of growers to seven and dispensaries to 18, all registered with the state.

The House last month passed the bill 56-38.

Senators opposed to the bill cited health consequences for young people, negative effects on family life, and increased traffic crashes, DUIs and police work. 

"There's not one positive thing by adding an addictive, destructive drug," said Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg.

Sen. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, a former police youth bureau worker, said "I think it's a wrong thing to do to pass something we don't like just so that we don't get something we hate."

Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, criticized the "corporate farming drug cartel" advocating marijuana legalization, saying, "this is 100% about money."

House Bill 1501, brought by Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, which set a tax policy for recreational marijuana, passed the House 73-21. The Senate on Thursday defeated it unanimously without debate.

The Senate will soon vote on House Bill 1201, brought by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The House earlier passed the bill 58-36. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave the bill a 6-1 "do not pass" recommendation.

Medical marijuana

The Senate on Thursday also defeated House Bill 1391, brought by Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, D-Fargo, which would make edible products available to patients in the state's medical marijuana program.

The Senate voted 25-22. The bill needed a two-thirds majority, or 32 votes, to pass. The House earlier had passed the bill 63-31. Opponents say children could mistake edibles for candy.

Voters in 2016 approved medical marijuana. The 2017 Legislature implemented the program. It has 4,977 active patient cards, with eight dispensaries operating in the state, including one in Bismarck. The state's first dispensary opened in Fargo in March 2019.

Also, the Senate passed House Bill 1359, brought by Rep. Matt Ruby, R-Minot. The bill passed 45-2. The House passed it earlier 80-13.

The bill would restructure the state's medical marijuana advisory board to include representation from manufacturing facilities, dispensaries and patients. The board has six members appointed by the governor, but no requirements for membership.

The bill also would expand the number of designated caregivers -- people who manage patients' use of medical marijuana -- from one to five, and remove the $50 designated caregiver application fee. 

The bill goes to Gov. Doug Burgum, who has three legislative days to act upon receiving it. 

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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