Dalrymple’s Budget Contains Massive Line Item to Implement Foolish Medical Marijuana Measure

In yet another example of how deeply unwise it is to legislate at the ballot box, get a load of this bullet point from page 157 of Governor Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget summary (see below) presented to lawmakers at their organizational session earlier this week:

budgetsummary

These proposed additions would be to the Department of Health’s budget. That is the department tasked with implementing this 38 page policy abomination. We’re talking about is $7 million in new spending, at a time when the state is trying to trim the budget in the face of falling revenues, and 17 new full time equivalent positions.

Though it’s not in the executive budget, the Department of Agriculture is tasked with some new oversight by this measure too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a request to increase that budget too.

Back in July the Department of Health released to the public a fiscal note for this ballot measure saying it would cost $8.7 million in the first biennium, with a requirement for no fewer than 32 new state employees. Riley Ray Morgan, the organizer of the measure, called that an “an outrageous figure,” and to be sure the DoH overshot their estimate on the number of employees (state agencies are always hire happy) but they weren’t that far off on the dollars.

The executive budget is just a suggestion to lawmakers. A starting point. And we have a new governor, Doug Burgum, taking over next week. But I think their hands are going to be tied when it comes to this appropriation.

I support full-on legalization of marijuana for any type of use North Dakotans want to get up to, but the way this measure goes about doing it is a bureaucratic nightmare.

We’re talking about is $7 million in new spending, at a time when the state is trying to trim the budget in the face of falling revenues, and 17 new full time equivalent positions.

For instance, the measure allows for the creation of “compassionate care centers.”  The centers could not be located within 1,000 feet of a school. They must operate under bylaws submitted to the state for approval, and their books must be open to audit by the state.  Even the security and video monitoring systems for the centers are dictated by the measure.

The centers would be limited to possessing no more than 1,000 marijuana plants, or 3,500 ounces of marijuana.

Also, in order to enhance the hippie factor of the measure, these centers will also only be allowed to sell organic marijuana. “There are no pesticides authorized for use on marijuana; as such, a compassion center shall not apply pesticides in the cultivation of marijuana,” the measure states.

Those who qualify to use medical marijuana are allowed cultivate it themselves, but only if they live more than 40 miles from a center and then only under more heavy-handed guidelines.

Not only is this bureaucratic gauntlet going to be daunting for anyone wanting to legally use marijuana for medical purposes (they’re probably going to find it easier to continue buying on the black market), but someone is going to have to be in charge of implementing all these regulations for those who do attempt it.

Someone has to make sure that the marijuana is organic, that the facilities are in compliance, that the books are being audited, that self-growers are living in the right geographic location and following all applicable laws. That costs time and money.

In a perfect would the Legislature, recognizing that the vote of the people on this ballot singles a sea change in North Dakota attitudes about marijuana, could re-write this nonsense into something that’s easier to administer. But they can’t. Because this passed as a ballot measure, the Legislature can’t touch it for seven years unless a two-thirds majority in both houses votes for it.

Which is politically unlikely given that a majority of voters just cast their ballots for this thing.

I think most North Dakotans voted for this measure because they like the idea of people being able to legally use marijuana as a treatment for various medical conditions. Which is great! I’m glad people feel that way. I agree with them. What I don’t think voters realized is how soul-suckingly bureaucratic the actual laws put in place by the measure really are.

Which, again, is why we shouldn’t be legislating at the ballot box.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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