In what is sure to be an ongoing issue of controversy, the House Human Services Committee has set their hearing for Senate Bill 2344 on Tuesday, March 21st. As you’re probably aware, this bill seeks to extensively amend the initiated measure to legalize Medical Marijuana – known as Measure 5 or the Compassionate Care Act – which passed with about 64% of the vote back in November.
Even more stunning than the 64% was that 42 of North Dakota’s 53 counties (or 79%) approved of the measure.
It is unusual for the legislature to tinker with an initiated measure. And the fact that Measure 5 passed by such a stunningly wide margin makes it even more controversial. And while supporters of SB 2344 are probably correct that the vast majority of those that voted for Measure 5 did not read the bill in it’s entirety, that fact makes it no less controversial that the legislature is proposing significant changes to what the people approved.
Perhaps the most common argument for change came in the fact that those that crafted Measure 5 failed to decriminalize Medical Marijuana. Fair enough, but does that warrant an overhaul of the entire bill?
Maggie Ellinger-Locke, who is Legislative Counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, summed up some of the more concerning changes to the bill for her:
"SB 2344 would potentially allow some patients access to whole plant cannabis, but it is so limited, it may serve as a de facto ban. The bill also eliminates the limited home cultivation provision and the addition of new qualifying conditions to the program. Further, the bill would only allow only eight dispensaries statewide and limit plant counts, virtually guaranteeing shortages, driving up prices, and denying patients the medicine they need. There is no statewide cap on the number of pharmacies, so why should there be a cap on dispensaries?"
Senator Oley Larsen (R – District 3) summed up some of his concerns about proposed high fees to the Bismarck Tribune in this way:
"Here’s the big problem. When you go to the compassion center and you get your bar-coded little receptacle that your stuff is in, I can go down to the bar at the corner and I can get that same stuff for about $65 and just keep putting it in the jar, and I am not going to pay $10,000 a year for this therapy that I know works," he said. "That was my biggest problem with this whole thing. There’s no fingerprint on this smokeable stuff."
Senator Larsen also proposed an amendment to let people grow their own marijuana for smoking, but it was defeated.
I think Senator Judy Lee (R – District 13) let the cat out of the bag in floor discussion on SB 2344 when she admitted that leadership felt Measure 5 was "too loose" for their liking. That moment of blunt honesty pretty much sums up the motives behind the bill.
I personally believe that the day will come when North Dakotans will look back and wonder why the state wasted all this time, energy, and money on such an issue. Of course, that day won’t come until full legalization of recreational is upon us, but it will come. It’s just too bad that taxpayers have to foot the bill in the meantime.