ND likely to debate medical marijuana proposal

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota voters are likely to have a chance this fall to decide whether marijuana may be used legally as a pain reliever, an option the Legislature has never addressed and that South Dakotans have rejected twice.

Supporters of medical marijuana have been circulating a citizen initiative to put the issue on the November ballot. On Monday, Dave Schwartz, campaign director for a pro-medical marijuana group called North Dakotans for Compassionate Care, delivered petitions that he said contained about 20,000 signatures to North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office.

The petitions need about 13,500 signatures from North Dakota voters for the initiative to qualify for a vote. Jaeger has about a month to review the petitions and decide whether they are valid.

The measure would allow someone who suffers from cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating illnesses to use marijuana if a doctor recommends it.

Medical marijuana users could grow a limited supply for their own use, and possess up to 2½ ounces of pot for medical reasons, the measure says.

People who needed to obtain the drug would do so from a state-licensed dispensary, with the North Dakota Health Department given regulatory responsibility over medical marijuana.

Terry Dwelle, the Health Department's chief administrator, was traveling Monday and not immediately available to comment about the measure, a spokeswoman said. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Seventeen states, including Montana, have laws that allow for medical uses of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a Denver organization that collects data on the subject. An 18th state, Maryland, allows someone who is charged with using or possessing marijuana to offer a defense that it was for medical reasons.

South Dakota voters have rejected medical marijuana initiatives twice. In 2006, 52 percent of South Dakota voters opposed the idea; in 2010, the "No" faction grew to 63 percent.

Schwartz said he believed public attitudes on the medical use of marijuana have changed in favor of those who advocate it.

Many people know someone who has suffered from chronic pain, a debilitating disease or cancer chemotherapy, and marijuana can be useful in relieving pain and nausea, he said Monday.

"Some of the myths that we often hear is that, this is only for people to just go ahead and get high, and that's not the case," Schwartz said. "This is about medical patients that would benefit greatly from it."