Measure 5 postponed with Senate Bill 2154, then altered with Senate Bill 2344

By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – Days after North Dakota Legislation declared an emergency measure postponing Measure 5, or the North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative, a new bill was proposed.

Measure 5 is gutted, the bill’s initiator Rilie Ray Morgan said. More than 80 percent of the bill has been changed. Testimonies will go before the Senate Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

“It’s an abomination,” Morgan said. “Like I said it’s a punch in the gut to the patients of North Dakota, and a slap in the face to the voters of North Dakota. The state legislature has an agenda where they are totally opposed to cannabis in any form. They’re not going to let people have it unless they are willing to pay for it.”

Morgan initiated the measure, also known as the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, to offer those suffering from seizures, chronic pain from cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, Crohn’s Disease and other illnesses an alternative to big pharmaceutical prescription painkillers.

The former Senate Bill 2154, now known as Senate Bill 2344, was a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Rich Wardner, R-N.D., and Senate Dem-NPL Leader Joan Heckaman, and approved by the Delayed Bills Committee.

“I think it was in the making, they were contemplating, they were working on this bill for a while,” Representative Pamela Anderson, D-N.D., said. “The people have spoken. And we are not stupid or ill-informed voters in North Dakota.”

Since the day after the measure was voted in, telephones inside the North Dakota Department of Health have been ringing off the hook, Wardner said. The bill he co-introduced was to ease the pressure off the health department.

“People need to back off,” Wardner said of the people calling the health department. “They’re upset they can’t grow it. They’re upset because they can’t smoke it. But the health department has to have some money to go out and regulate it.”

Regulation is needed, Anderson said, but the differences between state and federal laws shouldn’t be an obstacle the Peace Garden State, which has a long history of suing the federal government, can’t get over.

“We have smart people in the health department, smart people who can help implement this. If we have to spend some money, then I guess we do. At some point it will be self sustaining.”

Thirty states across the Union have passed medical marijuana laws. Critics point to how closely  SB 2344 resembles Minnesota’s laws pertaining to medical marijuana, and that Minnesota is already undergoing and discussing changes and expansion after only two years of implementation.

“There isn’t a state who has passed medical marijuana who has undone it. What are we afraid of?”

Wardner is against putting the financial burden on the taxpayers, he said. His bill would create four manufacturing compassionate care centers, eight dispensaries with a possibility for more, but take the ability for designated people to grow up to five plants at home away. Users would also be limited to marijuana oil and pills; no cannabis leaf would be available under SB 2344.

“Manageable regulation and enforcement,” Wardner said is the reasoning for the new bill.

“If that’s the case, why are they eliminating pediatrics?” Anderson said.

“Are we listening to the people? We do have a legislative process down here, and we will have a hearing tomorrow and they can make their case for it.”

Much of the first few pages of the original bill are crossed out. Some of the changes the Senate Bill 2344 include:

  • Limit the types of usable marijuana to medical marijuana oil and pills, whereas the original bill voted in by every voting district in the state chose dried leaves, flowers of the marijuana plant, any mixture or preparation of those dried leaves and flowers, tinctures, and ointments.
  • Raise the non-refundable application fee from $125 for the first year and $25 for subsequent years as stated in original bill to an amount not to exceed $300 in Senate Bill 2344.
  • Raise the Compassionate Care Centers’ renewal fee from $25,000 a year to an amount not to exceed $100,000.
  • The new bill was intended to assist people with low incomes; the new wording would keep money in state hands.
  • State would limit the number of dispensaries instead of allowing the free market to decide how many dispensaries are needed.
  • New bill would deplete the original nine-member advisory board to four members.
  • New regulations, if passed, would reduce the amount of medicine a patient can receive by half.
  • The new bill would limit the options parents have for their children down to one type: pediatric medical marijuana oil, and would also limit the number of physicians who would be authorized to prescribe marijuana.
  • SB 2344 would disqualify anyone with a misdemeanor offense on record in past five years from being a caregiver; the original bill stated those convicted of a felony offense are prohibited from serving as a designated caregiver.

“The lawmaker’s decision to disregard the will and words of their constituents is both arrogant and troubling,” Jason Spiess, a longtime researcher and writer on the cannabis issue, said. “Voters should be very concerned at the rewriting and the handling of this measure, especially when nearly 64 percent of the public voted for it. Whether or not one supports marijuana law reform, the legislators’ attitudes and actions are an affront to the democratic process.”

Anderson has been busy studying the new senate bill, and has been talking to legislators about the bill’s ramifications. Under the new bill, only seven doctors in the state, five in Fargo, and two in Bismarck, would be authorized to certify prescriptions for marijuana to patients, Anderson said.

Under the new bill, children in need of marijuana would be restricted to the the types of doctors they could see; young 20-year-old veterans from foreign wars suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome would still have to seek parental permission to use marijuana.  

“State laws shouldn’t state how much it is,” Anderson said. “It makes no sense when they can prescribe mind-altering pharmaceutical drugs with no issue. “I think people voted for medical marijuana and with this Senate bill they’re not going to get it.

“Basically I’m saying it’s not medical marijuana for our kids at this point.”

Spiess has been alerting legislators as well, he said, and has heard that at least ten people from Fargo will give testimony in Bismarck before the Senate Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

Morgan’s wife is taking a carload of people to the testimony, he said.

“I firmly believe that the legislature put this out there to find out how bad the pushback is going to be,” Morgan said. “They’re going to see how much they can get away with. I wonder if they did any surveys to determine if the voters really knew what they were voting for? Did they talk to voters? I’ve never seen that.”


Civil disobedience

While on his way to tee time in Bismarck in 2011, Mark Krein, 42, a Fargo resident, was pulled over for making a “California stop” at a stop sign, he said. The arresting officer suspected marijuana, and discovered less than the ounce in Krein’s pocket.

He spent three days in jail, because he refused to talk, he said. The story of Andrew Sadek, a college student in Wahpeton, who was arrested for pot possession, turned informant, and later found with a gunshot wound in his head in the Red River came to mind.

“Bite your tongue,” Krein said. “Take your pain. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”

Police records show that he was initially arrested on a felony, which was plea-bargained down to a Class A misdemeanor.

“They were so pissed off at me because I wouldn’t talk to them,” Krein said. “They were threatening me, and threw me in jail for three days, and made up how much weed I had.”

He refused to answer questions from police on where he obtained the marijuana, and pled guilty to possessing less than one ounce.

State prosecutors eventually offered him a plea bargain. In the meantime, Krein said his lawyers took issue with police procedure weighing the marijuana in two batches, sending half to the crime lab.

“How come they didn’t send it all there?” Krein said. “They didn’t have an ounce so they tried fudging it. So they threw me in jail over the Fourth of July weekend, when I should have been released on my own cognizance.”

Krein ended up paying more than $9,000 in court fees, fines, and drug tests. He wonders how much the state had to pay for his initial arrest and confinement, a police raid of his home by seven officers who discovered less than a gram of recreational marijuana, a 100-watt light bulb, and a High Times Magazine.

He waited nearly a year before being charged again, but this time with manufacturing marijuana and possession, he said.

“After they came to my house, they waited 363 days to come charge me,” Krein said. “Can you believe that? A few days before the statute of limitations took effect and they could no longer charge me. Imagine being at work and waiting for the cops to come and arrest you. I knew it was coming.”

The state’s plea bargain initially included 15 days in jail, a $500 dollar fine, and years of supervision. He said no. He wanted trial by jury.

On the day of the trial, the prosecuting attorneys did not show in court. The judge levied a $200 fine, and told him to go home.

Although he did not sign the recreational marijuana bill last year, he did sign the medical marijuana measure.

“They could be using it as a revenue stream,” Krein said. “SB 2344 needs to just get killed.”

Last year, Krein also battled oral cancer. “Now I have even more invested interest in this than before.” Reasons why the legislature wants to ban smoking or vaping is because marijuana in the leaf form is instant medicine, he said. Oils, however, take approximately an hour to take affect.

The people have voted on what they want, Krein said, anything less won’t be acceptable. The way the bill is written now will become a further burden to taxpayers by increasing police and court workloads, and exacerbating already full jails.

“People are going to do civil disobedience,” Krein said. “That’s what I’m gonna do. If they say you can’t grow your own plants, well, you wanna bet? If they come and bust me, arrest me for growing my own medicine, then I’m going to go for a jury nullification because you guys didn’t keep up your part of the bargain and apparently 64 percent of the people in this state say so, so I’m going to take a jury trial and they’re going to let me go.”

Potential civil disobedience against SB 2344 didn’t faze Wardner.

“They will have to take that up with the judge,” Wardner said. “I’m not a lawyer or a judge.”

He didn’t sound optimistic about Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Human Services Committee.

“I probably won’t have a rear end after tomorrow,” Wardner said. “I think it’s going to go through the Senate, but I don’t know what is going to happen in the House.”

Heckaman, also listed as an introducer of the SB 2344, didn’t answer telephone calls or reply to emails by press time.