Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure Is Too Bureaucratic for Its Own Good

I think marijuana use should be legal for all purposes, be they medical or recreational.

But I also think the manner in which we legalize marijuana use matters. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the medical marijuana ballot measure which will more than likely be on the ballot in November is so addled by bureaucracy that it will do very little to help ill people obtain marijuana as a treatment. I’m afraid that, as has been the case in other states, obtaining marijuana for legal medical purposes under this measure will be so difficult that many people would find it easier to purchase it from the black market.

Which defeats the whole purpose of the ballot measure.

Looking at this issue from another perspective, though, the North Dakota Department of Health has published a memo outlining what they see as significant costs associated with the practical realities of implementing the policy. They see implementation costing $8.7 million in the first biennium, with a requirement for no fewer than 32 new state employees.

You can read the full memo below. A spokesman for the petition is already accusing the Health Department of exaggerating the costs:

Sponsoring committee chairman Rilie Ray Morgan of Fargo said he hadn’t seen the memo until a reporter contacted him about it Thursday morning and he needed more time to study it before commenting at length. But he called the $8.7 million estimate “an outrageous figure,” noting it’s more than twice the $3.9 million fiscal note for a medical marijuana legalization bill defeated by House lawmakers in February 2015.

“For a public agency that obviously is not in favor of this to come out and make these statements like this is fearmongering at its best,” he said, accusing the department of exploiting the state’s cash-strapped status to “make this sound really bad so the voters of North Dakota will say, ‘We can’t afford that.’ “

If Health Department is exaggerating it wouldn’t be the first time inflated costs were used as justification to kill proposed policy. In the Legislature this is called “death by fiscal note.”

The thing is, I’m not sure the Health Department is exaggerating. There is a lot of bureaucracy and regulation in the 38 pages of this ballot measure (read them here).

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.

So who is going to ensure that all of these provisions of the law are being followed? The Health Department? Local law enforcement? Whoever does it, there will be a cost in terms of labor and equipment, and that cost will not be insignificant.

The measure does institute fees, but it seems unlikely that these fees will cover the cost of implementation.

Will the costs be as high as the Health Department is estimating? Maybe, maybe not. But I’d bet this ballot measure would generate costs from more than just the Health Department, and taxpayers need to understand what those costs will be before making up their minds on this ballot measure.

Unfortunately we have just a few short months of campaign season for voters to inform themselves. Another example of why legislating at the ballot box is, generally, a very bad idea.

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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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