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North Dakota House committee approves medical marijuana bill

BISMARCK—Restrictions on smoking marijuana for medical purposes would be loosened under legislation approved by a North Dakota House committee.

The rewrite of North Dakota's new medical marijuana law took another step toward passage Monday, April 3, as the House Human Services Committee approved changes to Senate Bill 2344. It's now on its way to the House floor, where it will need the support of two-thirds of lawmakers because it amends a recent initiated measure.

Under the version of the bill passed by the Senate last month, a physician that authorized a patient to smoke marijuana must attest that no other form would be effective. But the House's version does not include that stipulation.

The House bill allows for the use of tinctures, transdermal patches, topicals, capsules and "cannabinoid concentrates." Minors would not be able to smoke marijuana for medical purposes.

The House committee also reduced the annual patient application fee from $200 in the Senate version to $50 and allowed advanced practice registered nurses to certify that patients are likely to receive benefits from medical marijuana. It also reduced the maximum number of manufacturing facilities to be registered by the state Health Department from four to two but keeps the number of dispensaries at eight.

The Health Department may register additional facilities if it determines they're needed to increase access.

The House's version of the bill adds terminal illnesses to the list of debilitating conditions under which a patient could qualify for medical marijuana use, while cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn's disease and others were already included in the bill.

The House Human Services Committee gave the bill a "do pass" recommendation in a 13-1 vote Monday.

The Legislature's decision to amend the so-called Compassionate Care Act has drawn criticism from medical marijuana supporters, along with suggestions of a lawsuit or second initiated measure. But legislative leaders have said the original initiated measure, approved by almost 64 percent of voters in November, needed improved regulations.

Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo, a medical marijuana supporter, said she was happy with the changes the House committee made.

"I can support this bill," she said.

Lawmakers have proposed removing a section of the law allowing patients who live more than 40 miles away from a facility to cultivate up to eight marijuana plants. Anderson noted most residents live near the state's largest cities, where dispensaries are likely to be located. 

A Department of Health official previously said they expect medical marijuana to be available for purchase in about a year.

Senate Human Services Committee Chairwoman Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said she still expects the bill to head to conference committee, where lawmakers from both chambers can discuss differences between the versions of the bill they passed.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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