One of the most contentious topics in the North Dakota legislature so far has been the issue of medical marijuana. Much of that contention focused on what is and is not the will of the people.
Opponents to SB2344, legislation backed by the bi-partisan leadership of the House and Senate chambers, say that the Legislature is trying to undermine the will of the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for Measure 5 last year. The bill, you see, makes sweeping changes to that measure the implementation of which had previously been delayed by lawmakers.
But what exactly is the expressed will of the people when it comes to a ballot measure to legalize access to medical marijuana which doesn’t actually legalize that access? Are we to believe that voters read the dozens of pages of legal language making up the measure and explicitly approved of every regulation and law it put in place?
That seems like a stretch to me. At most, the people said with their vote on Measure 5 that they want legal access to medical marijuana. The legislature is trying to deliver on that in a workable, fiscally prudent way.
“We know that this bill isn’t perfect,” Senator Judy Lee (R-Fargo) said in carrying the legislation to the floor. “The initiated measure was even less perfect.”
“We are responding to the voters in a responsible way,” she continued.
Senator Oley Larsen (R-Minot) tried to amend the legislation on the floor to put back in provisions allowing North Dakotans to grow medical marijuana at home if they’re more than 40 miles from an official dispensary, but the amendment was voted down on an unrecorded vote.
Lee said it wouldn’t be “reasonable” to expect law enforcement to track the sort of at-home growing Laresen’s amendment would have allowed.
Senators Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) and Joan Heckaman (D-New Rockford), the Majority and Minority leaders respectively, urged a yes vote on the bill. “This bill will make medical marijuana accessible,” Heckaman said. “Vote green.”
But Senator Merrill Piepkorn (D-Fargo) railed against the bill. “It’s not the state’s responsibility to say ‘gotcha there’,” he said, referring to the arguments some Senators made about the flaws in the initiated measure. “It’s not the state’s responsibility to make it as expensive as possible.”
SB2344 does implement fees for access medical marijuana which are substantially higher than what was in the measure, but Wardner said that was necessary given the state’s budget situation.
“If we had low fees we’d probably have to tax it,” he said noting that administering medical marijuana will require the hire of a dozen new Department of Health employees and millions of dollars in appropriations.
The bill passed on a 40-6 vote, more than enough needed for the 2/3’s majority needed to make a change to a ballot measure.
Here’s the video of the full debate: