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Measure to legalize marijuana in North Dakota lacks signatures for November ballot

The proposed North Dakota measure would have made it legal for those over age 21 to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana and would have prevented the state from requiring a license to do it. Tony Mangnall of Fargo said sponsors plan to try again, probably for the 2018 ballot. Source: Pixabay1 / 2
Brandon Muhs, front, of Fargo, North Dakota, pushes a dolly cart with boxes containing petition signatures into the Secretary of State's office on 7-11-2016 for a medical marijuana initiative for consideration on the November ballot. Initiative committee chairman Rilie Ray Morgan, second from right, and his wife, Rita, far right, also of Fargo, were among a group of supporters gathering at the state Capitol in Bismarck, North Dakota. 2 / 2

BISMARCK – North Dakotans may decide in November whether marijuana should be available for medical use, but they won’t vote on full legalization of pot after sponsors of that proposed measure failed to muster the necessary signatures by Monday’s deadline.

More than a dozen supporters of the medical marijuana measure delivered about 17,600 petition signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday afternoon.

Jaeger has 35 days to verify at least 13,452 signatures to put the so-called Compassionate Care Act on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Sponsoring committee chairman Rilie Ray Morgan, a financial advisor from Fargo who suffers from chronic pain, said the measure isn’t a ploy to pave the way for full legalization.

“This is a case of people that have medical issues that have another means to treat those medical issues without prescription drugs that are addictive,” he said.

Since California voters first approved medical marijuana in 1996, 24 more states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The North Dakota measure would allow qualifying patients to possess up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana for treatment of about a dozen debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, AIDS and glaucoma, while allowing the state Health Department to add more.

The department would issue ID cards for patients and regulate state-licensed dispensaries. People living more than 40 miles from the nearest dispensary could grow up to eight marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked facility after notifying law enforcement.

House lawmakers defeated a bill last year to legalize medical marijuana. The Health Department projected at the time that 8,135 patients and 4,068 caregivers would register for it and that revenue from registration cards and other fees would offset nearly $3.9 million in costs to run the program.

Jaeger approved the ballot petition for circulation on Nov. 30. Sponsors said they started gathering signatures in December, using 107 volunteers spread across the state.

“There’s a lot of parents that have worked tirelessly and worked very hard to try to get this on the ballot,” said sponsor Mary Rennich of Bismarck, whose 25-year-old son Sam suffers from epileptic seizures.

Sponsors of the full legalization measure fell short of their goal but indicated it wasn’t a wasted effort.

If they submit the required 13,452 signatures by March 9, 2017, they can still get the measure on the June 2018 ballot. And because they’re already 85 percent of the way there, it “should be a comparably trivial effort to complete the petition by then,” said sponsor Tony Mangnall of Fargo, chairman of the North Dakota Libertarian Party, which endorsed the initiated measure.

The proposed measure would make it legal for those over age 21 to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana and would prevent the state from requiring a license to do it.

Medical marijuana supporter Brandon Muhs of Fargo, who carted boxes of petitions into Jaeger’s office Monday at the Capitol, said he and his wife Becky have successfully treated her cancer with cannabis oil twice this year. Muhs said supporters of legalizing marijuana for recreational use “have different agendas for it and it’s a lot broader spectrum of people.”

“Personally, I didn’t think that North Dakota was ready for that,” he said.

Morgan said supporters plan to raise funds for an ad campaign, hold town meetings and possibly go door-to-door before November.

Status of N.D. ballot measures

Approved for the Nov. 8 ballot:

  • A constitutional measure proposed by the 2015 Legislature would prohibit lawmakers from serving in the Legislature unless they live in the district where voters elected them.
  • Another constitutional measure brought by lawmakers would allow excess money in the state’s Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund to be used for education purposes other than offsetting cuts to education funding when there’s a revenue shortage.
  • An initiated measure inspired by California’s Marsy’s Law would expand North Dakota crime victims’ rights as listed in current state law and enshrine them in the state constitution.

Signatures under review:

  • An initiative measure named by sponsors as the Compassionate Care Act would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Sponsors submitted about 17,600 signatures Monday and need 13,452 valid signatures to make the ballot.
  • Sponsors submitted more than 22,000 signatures last week for an initiated measure that would increase tobacco taxes from 44 cents to $2.20 per pack on cigarettes and from 28 percent to 56 percent of the whole purchase price on liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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