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Omdahl: Marijuana Initiative Is a Good Idea, But…

By Staff | Nov 6, 2015

Widespread illegal use of marijuana for recreational purposes has biased the public mind against legalizing the drug for multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain, nausea and a dozen ailments for which conventional medications have failed.

Over 20 states have legalized the drug for medical purposes even though federal law prohibits use and distribution. Even so, states have gone ahead because the U.S. Department of Justice has promised to overlook violations

Legalization of medical marijuana is a good idea. Unfortunately, the measure being initiated by the North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana has fatal flaws.

The proposal is being initiated by citizens because the Legislature refused to act. The bill was defeated by 26 to 67 in the 2015 House of Representatives.

The Legislature also refused to create a medical marijuana interim study committee. That was unfortunate because something as complicated as medical marijuana cannot be implemented and controlled without the Legislature’s involvement.

Some states that have adopted medical marijuana by citizen petition have been regretting their bypassing of legislatures.

Montana has had medical marijuana since 2004 but Billings businessman Steve Zabawa now wants to repeal it even though he originally voted for the measure.

He was quoted by PEW Trust as saying that without adequate regulations the industry “really got out of control and wasn’t anything about medicine. “

Colorado state auditors reported in the Denver Post that those charged with oversight of the industry have failed to track inventory or manage budgets “to keep potential bad actors out of the business.”

The Oregonian reported that its medical marijuana problem is heavily manipulated by traffickers who make millions on the black market and that people with drug felonies are being certified for the business.

According to PEW, both California and Michigan are still struggling to put the worms back in the can.

If the proposed North Dakota initiative passes on November 8, it will become effective on December 8. If the state Health Department fails to act within 120 days, petitioners can ask the courts for a writ of mandamus to force start of the program, ready or not.

This will catch the state unprepared since legislation will be necessary to pick up the administrative questions left unanswered by the 23-page proposal.

Even though the program is supposed to be self-supporting with fees, the fees become public funds, the spending of which will require legislative action of some kind. In addition, the Legislature must authorize the staffing levels.

The most serious flaw in the initiated measure is that it copies the medical marijuana laws of other states calling for a whole new bureaucracy to control production and to be sure that distribution is confined to people with medical justification.

North Dakota should not even consider authorizing in-state cultivation of marijuana when it can be purchased from any one of the 23 states in the medical marijuana business. In-state production creates a real sieve full of opportunities for diversion.

And instead of depending private suppliers, medical marijuana ought to be distributed by prescription solely through pharmacies in the same manner as other controlled drugs. That would keep it medical.

The measure assumes competition among suppliers and requires the Health Department to take bids and choose the organization that will make the money in medical marijuana.

Don’t kid yourself about the problems that will be involved with money. Once financial beneficiaries become involved, they will lobby in every legislative session to liberalize the rules so they can make more profit.

Because passage of the initiative will have wide-ranging complications, the Legislative Management Committee would be wise to activate an interim study to identify the legislation that will be required to make the proposal workable.

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