A hot button issue this legislative session has been Senate Bill 2344, which is basically an overhaul of Measure 5– otherwise known as the Compassionate Care Act or Medical Marijuana. As you will recall, Measure 5 passed back in November by an astounding 64% of the vote. And, as I mentioned in a recent article, even more astounding was that 42 of North Dakota’s 53 counties (79%) approved the measure.
Yet, aside from the astounding margins of victory, the North Dakota legislature has taken it upon themselves to tinker with the measure. To be fair, the word "tinker" probably isn’t all that accurate. "Overhaul" would probably be more appropriate. The excuse is that Measure 5 was poorly written and has been a nightmare for implementation– including it’s failure to decriminalize medical marijuana. Never mind that Senator Judy Lee (R – District 13) admitted in floor debate that the measure was "too loose" for leadership’s liking. Big Brother knows best, right?
As a result of the legislature’s actions with SB 2344, many people have been debating the issue of initiated measures altogether. Some people despise them, some think they’re essential, and others believe the process at least needs to be reformed.
In all of the debate that I have heard or read, the best suggestion I have heard – if North Dakota is to keep the initiated measure process – has come from North Dakota Watchdog Network’s Dustin Gawrylow. Gawrylow’s idea is that sponsoring committee’s for initiated measures should be provided access to Legislative Council. For those not familiar with the legislative process, Legislative Council is a nonpartisan organization that serves a variety of purposes. Among those purposes is to craft legislation for legislators.
Utilizing Legislative Council to assist sponsoring committees in crafting their initiated measures can only be a positive from my perspective. Doing so would likely prevent the level of contention that is currently being experienced with Measure 5 and SB 2344. Not to mention the savings in time, energy, and taxpayer money.
If our legislators are as frustrated and concerned – as many of them have expressed – with how the initiated measure process has played out with Measure 5, then one would think that they would be more than happy to propose the necessary changes to make Dustin Gawrylow’s idea become a reality.
The initiated measure is not going anywhere. Not only is it enshrined in our State Constitution, but I simply cannot see the people being willing to rid themselves of this power anymore than legislators want to rid themselves of theirs. So, if initiated measures are going to continue to be a reality on the North Dakota political scene, why not make them the best that they can be? Gawrylow’s idea is brilliant. The legislature should listen to him.