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Medical marijuana may soon be legal in the state, a change its lead supporter said shows North Dakotans' compassion for people suffering from chronic pain.

Measure 5 was leading with 62 percent of the vote as of at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, with 234 of 432 precincts reporting.

"I believe that the North Dakota population voted for caring. They have friends, neighbors with medical issues, and they really think this would at least get them the opportunity to explore medical cannabis and see if it's right for them," said Riley Ray Morgan, committee chairman for the measure.

The measure will allow people to possess up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana for treatment of up to nearly a dozen medical conditions. Facilities for medical marijuana distribution will be licensed by the state Health Department and operated by nonprofit organizations.

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Courtney Koebele, executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association, opposed the measure. She expressed concern that medical marijuana could get into the wrong hands. She says marijuana is “not medicine” and hopes residents will wait for drugs with THC to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The health department has said the initiative would cost $8.7 million to operate in its first year and would be “extremely difficult” to implement within the next 30 days. Morgan calls that funding figure “overblown” and expects the state could use fewer people and quickly start generating income.

Similar measures were on the ballot in nine other states. Medical marijuana already was legal in 25 states.

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Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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