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Port: Measure 5 forgot to legalize medical marijuana

By Staff | Feb 17, 2017

The medical marijuana measure which earned nearly 64 percent of the vote in November is a mess.

It set out to legalize access to marijuana treatments, but its drafters forgot to legalize that access.

The measure, as it is currently written, sets out an arduous bureaucratic process through which North Dakotans can grow, sell, and/or buy medical marijuana but does not modify the criminal statutes to make growing, selling, and/or buying marijuana legal for medical purposes.

I’m not exaggerating. That’s just one of the many problems with this measure which lawmakers now have to address.

“If a person is using medical marijuana legally, we need to ensure that they not be charged with a criminal violation,” Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, a Republican from Dickinson, said this past week during a committee hearing.

Wardner has introduced a bill to fix Measure 5, turning a poorly written and ill considered piece of public policy into something workable which will deliver on the clear desire of North Dakotans to have legal access to medical marijuana.

Everyone knew this would have to be done. That’s why his bill, SB 2344, was sponsored by both Republican and Democratic legislative leadership.

When the majority and minority leaders get together on a bill it’s a signal that there is widespread, bipartisan agreement that something must be done.

Unfortunately, the effort to fix a ballot measure which is self evidently flawed has become a thankless task. Despite the bipartisan provenance of Wardner’s legislation it has been made a target for partisan machinations.

Some Democrats and their media mouthpieces have painted Wardner’s bill some affront to the “will of the people.” Which is utter nonsense.

Was it the will of the people to create a process for accessing medical marijuana while not actually decriminalizing that access?

Was it the will of people to create, as Measure 5 in its current form does, medical marijuana regulations so arduous and conflicted that those who want to use the drug for treatment will probably find the black market, with its attendant legal risks, a cheaper and easier option?

Hundreds of thousands of North Dakotans cast their ballots for Measure 5 which ultimately earned nearly 64 percent of the vote. While it’s clear that a majority of voting North Dakotans want legal access to medical marijuana, how many do you suppose read the roughly 40 pages of legalese which made up the measure?

Given the vote totals, chances are if you’re reading this, you voted for Measure 5. Did you read it?

Probably not.

It might be fair to criticize Wardner’s bill as going too far in some regards. His bill wouldn’t let medical marijuana users smoke the drug. That seems a little silly. That aspect of the bill should be amended.

But these partisan attacks on the efforts to even tweak the bill into rational law which can actually be followed?

They’re the product of an opposition party desperate for some semblance of relevance.

Measure 5 (along with other ballot measures I could mention) is a shining example of the stupidity of legislating at the ballot box. As though busy voters are going to read, consider, and understand the nuances of dozens of pages of legal language before casting their ballots.

But for better or worse the initiated measure process is something we allow. Something we also allow, though, is for the Legislature to wield a check on initiated measure power. Any given statutory change approved at the ballot box can be overturned or modified by a supermajority of lawmakers.

Situations like Measure 5, which represents a popular idea poorly executed, are why lawmakers have that power.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort

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