When North Dakota medical marijuana passed, it even surprised backers


BISMARCK, N.D. — They had tearfully but unsuccessfully pleaded to lawmakers about how North Dakota medical marijuana would help their critically ill children or ease their chronic pain. When they took their case to the deeply conservative and religious state’s voters, they found victory — a surprise even to the backers of the measure.

The proposal, which won 65 percent approval Tuesday, allows the use of marijuana as medicine for people who suffer from one of several debilitating illnesses. North Dakota was one of four states that approved medical marijuana ballot measures on Election Day.

“I thought we may have had a shot but I was surprised by the overwhelming percentage,” said Rilie Ray Morgan, a Fargo financial planner who headed the effort.

Under the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, those who receive a doctor’s permission to use marijuana for medicine can possess up to 3 ounces that’s from either a state-licensed dispensary or a personally grown supply. The qualifying conditions include cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma and other illnesses, including chronic back pain, a malady that Morgan suffers.

“We think there are up to 15,000 people in the state who could benefit from it and there is a wide range of ailments this could help, no question,” Morgan said.

North Dakota’s Republican-led House last year rejected a bipartisan measure last year to legalize medical marijuana, after state law enforcement and health officials said doing so would be a threat to public health and safety. But the state’s residents can put proposed state laws and constitutional amendments directly to a vote if the initiative’s backers can gather enough support.

North Dakota’s Health Department estimates medical marijuana will cost the state more than $3.5 million a year and a small army of workers to regulate.

Arvy Smith, the Health Department’s deputy state health officer, said the agency was scrambling Wednesday “seeking guidance on how to move forward.”

The measure becomes law in 30 days, but Smith and Morgan, who will help the state get the program started, believe it will take more than a year before people can begin obtaining the drug.

“We don’t have the budget for it at this time or the time frame to implement it,” Smith said. “But we certainly will make every effort.”

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