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Omdahl: Marijuana measure rife with problems

By Staff | Oct 7, 2016

Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is a good idea, but Measure No. 5 legalizing it is not.

On the good side, if passed, medical marijuana would relieve 8,000 sufferers of ailments such as cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s Disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and several others.

Research covering 17 states with medical marijuana found that the average doctor prescribed fewer antidepressants, seizure medications and anti-anxiety drugs.

For this reason, the pharmaceutical companies are financing anti-marijuana research to protect their markets. They have also lobbied Congress and probably had influence with federal agencies to keep marijuana on the list of prohibited drugs.

In August, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration refused to remove marijuana from “Schedule I” classifying the drug as having “no currently accepted medical use,” thereby precluding doctors from prescribing it.

This may create a problem with Measure No. 5 because it relies heavily on physicians to certify the individuals eligible for coverage.

Sponsors have written safeguards that would require an unattainable level of administration and control. To accomplish this, the North Dakota Health Department estimates that it would need over $ 4 million annually since fees will not cover the costs.

While supporters of the measure allege that the Health Department is exaggerating costs, chances are good that administration will cost twice that amount once the program goes into the field. For starters, the agency will need at least 32 new employees.

But money should not be the issue.

The proposal has left some unavoidable loopholes that will be quickly found and exploited, particularly the permission of marijuana-growing by individuals. When private growers get into the program, friends, relatives and black marketers will get access to the supply stream.

Investigative reporters on The Oregonian reported that the medical marijuana system in that state was heavily manipulated by drug traffickers who made millions on the black market.

Some potential beneficiaries will not participate when they find out that they must surrender their guns to become users.

According to an August ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, a 1968 law prohibits the purchase or possession of guns by users of drugs included in Schedule I. Collecting guns will require some incredible police work by the Department of Health.

While the U. S. Department of Justice currently is looking the other way in cases involving state-authorized marijuana, the federal government still holds the threat of prosecution because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Banks insured by FDIC will not handle marijuana money because of the “iffy” status of enforcement.

Once medical marijuana laws have been passed, the first demand has been for expansion of the list of covered ailments. Authorized to add ailments, the Health Department will have to fight off groups that want inclusion but have questionable medical needs. The Health Department will spend a lot of time in court.

Even if the measure is passed, the Legislature will have to enact implementing legislation and deal with unforeseen problems. However, it will not be able to amend the measure for the first seven years unless it can muster a two-thirds vote in both houses. Considering the mood of the last session, it may be impossible to muster that kind of majority no matter how serious the problem.

Measure No. 5 was initiated because the Legislature refused to give the proposal a fair hearing in the last session. It has done nothing since to come up with its own plan.

This is a tragic situation for 8,000 people waiting for relief. A sound medical marijuana program could have been developed during the interim. If Measure No. 5 passes, the Legislature will have itself to blame.

Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.

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