When lawmakers start interfering with voter-approved laws, it can get messy. Activists who worked hard to get the laws passed often don’t agree with the changes that legislature will try to make – and things are no different right now in the state of North Dakota, where medical marijuana was legalized in November. Now lawmakers are working hard to pass legislation that would make a number of changes to the voter-approved laws. Luckily the bill has been scaled back and brought slightly more in-line with what was expected during the House review, and passed with a vote of 79-13 only a day after it was approved by the Human Services Committee.
While one major flaw – a ban on home growing of medical cannabis plants – remains through the changes made in the House, other issues were definitely touched on. One big issue that had appeared in the original Senate Bill 2344 was the fact that it more or less banned smoking unless a physician determined it was the only effective method for the patient to medicate, and this provision has now been removed in the version that was passed this week by the House. Along with allowing cannabis flower for smoking, it also allows for the use of tinctures, capsules, topicals, patches and “cannabinoid concentrates”.
Unfortunately, there is concern that the fees that go along with licensing medical cannabis facilities will drive the prices of the medicine up – with biennial fees of $90,000 for dispensaries and $110,000 for manufacturing facilities. On the other hand, it does significantly lower the price of registry and medical marijuana patient ID cards – which in the Senate version would have been $200 annually – to only $50 annually, which would at least make registering for the program more affordable for patients who already spend a lot for medical care as it is.
“We’re still very concerned about whether this is going to be a viable bill going forward,” Riley Rey Morgan said. “If it’s not working down the road, certainly we’ll think about doing another initiated measure two years from now.”
Though the victory in November still stands and the Compassionate Care Act will roll out and provide medical marijuana access to tens of thousands of patients, lawmakers are making changes that activists and voters don’t want. If things don’t appear to be working out in the future, however, we could likely see the same group working to bring another ballot initiative to voters to bring specific aspects back to the law – including allowing home growing for those who live a certain distance from licensed dispensaries, and allowing edibles.
For now, it appears that SB2344 is what North Dakota residents will have to work with – assuming it clears the Senate a second time with another two-thirds vote. Even if it does, there is a chance that the bill will end up in a conference committee, made up of both Senators and Representatives working together to come to an agreement over the bill before sending it to the Governor for signature.