North Dakota Legislators Miss Due Date, Ask for Extension on Medical Marijuana

medical marijuana and a doctor's prescription

medical marijuana and a doctor's prescription

The citizens of North Dakota suffering from unforgiving diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and ALS should be finding some comfort following the legalization of medical marijuana in the November election, but the North Dakota legislature is forbidding this to happen.

On November 8,2016,nearly 64 percent of North Dakota citizens voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. This legislation titled the Compassionate Care Act made legal the “medical use of marijuana for defined medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma, and epilepsy.” Under this law, the Department of Health would dispense identification cards and certificates of registration to qualified patients, caregivers, and facilities.

According to the North Dakota State Constitution (Article III, Section 8), if the majority of voters cast a vote in favor of adopting a measure, then this measure “shall become law thirty days after the election.” This means that medical marijuana became legal on December 8.

However, by December 8 the state had done nothing. 70 days after the measure passed, the Department of Health still had not begun issuing identification cards. According to its own constitution, the state of North Dakota acted illegally.

On January 9, Senate Bill 2154 was introduced. This bill would suspend enactment of the Compassionate Care Act until July 31,2017or until other marijuana legislation is enacted. This was all to be done under a declaration of an emergency. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 2154 and it currently awaits a vote from the House.

Many legislators expressed concerns. One concern was the lack of time to properly prepare for the legalization logistically. According to the Boston Globe, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman noted, “It’s important to allow time to get this right.”

However, proponents of legalization feel that this is not a valid excuse. They believe that lawmakers should have anticipated legalization and prepared themselves to act in accordance, following in the footsteps of many other states that have recently legalized the substance.

“Ballot measures were submitted in November 2015. They knew what was coming and had plenty of time,” said Grand Forks resident and lead petitioner for the city, David Owen.

Another complaint of North Dakota legislators is that they did not like the wording of the bill and sought to undo some of its impacts. This has led to the expectation of a separate regulatory bill to be introduced next week.

“It has always been the job of the courts to determine the legality and application of laws—not lawmakers. They do not have the authority to determine if they like the language of the measure,” added Owen.

While this delay has instant ramifications for those whose suffering could be rectified by marijuana, the precedent set here is equally colossal. If legislators do not like a measure passed by citizens, they can postpone its implementation indefinitely by labeling the situation an emergency.

Though this certainly has potential to undermine the democratic process, the long-term implications of this measure are yet to be seen.