A former Dem-NPL campaign manager says he believes Republican legislators want to undermine the medical marijuana measure passed overwhelmingly by North Dakota voters on Nov. 8, a charge legislators denied.
The measure was supposed to go into effect 30 days after the election, its sponsor says. But an advisory board has not yet been appointed by the governor. The state health department, which is tasked with implementing medical marijuana, has concerns with some of the language in the measure and hasn’t received any extra funding to work on it.
A bill is being introduced to delay implementation of the measure, in order to give the health department more time to come up with a plan. Meanwhile, six Republican legislators, including House Majority Leader Al Carlson, are sponsoring a bill to create a special commission to undertake a “comprehensive study” of the initiated measure process, which is how voters bypass legislators to enact policy.
Some, including Democratic Rep. Marvin Nelson, are skeptical of the commission’s intentions. “Well I believe that is because the Republicans have decided to attack the only threat left, the people,” Nelson said. “They are smart enough to do it in a way to provide political cover. Start with a commission to fix things. Who could oppose fixing? Then you get the recommendations to make the process impossible and you point at the commission to blame. It is just a set of steps where each step isn’t so bad but in the end, you go where the people would not want to go.”
Speaking on a Fargo-based podcast called “People are Politics,” Josh Dryer, who ran Nelson’s unsuccessful campaign for governor, recently discussed how the special commission could be used to dismantle initiated measures.
“It’s a buffer for every new measure coming in,” Dryer said. “It’s almost like a kill switch. They have a committee that examines it and then it’s just one step easier to get rid of it. And it’s mostly set up because of medical marijuana.”
Dryer said contempt for the voters is rampant at the Capitol. “Every day, all one hears is just constant refrain on how stupid the voters are, what kind of idiots they are for Marsy’s Law, what kind of idiots they are for medical marijuana, and that’s coming from your Republican representatives you just elected in. They’re so gracious that you elected them in that they’re already calling you stupid idiots.”
Sen. Rich Wardner, a sponsor of the bill to create the special commission on initiated measures, told Mean Read it’s not an attempt to undermine medical marijuana. “We are not trying to gut the plan, but make sure the program does what it is meant to do, provide medical marijuana to those who need it,” he said.
Another sponsor, Rep. Kim Koppelman, said it “doesn’t change any law, but rather calls for a study, as I read it.” The bill is set for discussion at the Capitol on Friday at 9:30 a.m. in the Sheyenne Room, Dryer said.
Top Dem-NPL lawmakers reached for comment said they did not anticipate an attempt to kill the medical marijuana measure. Sen. Joan Heckaman met with Carlson yesterday. Along with two other legislators, they teamed up on a bill to delay medical marijuana’s implementation to give the health department more “time to develop the rules and regulations to implement this,” she said.
Asked if she believes Carlson plans to kill the measure, a feat that would take a two-thirds vote in the legislature, Heckaman said, “I didn’t get that feeling at all. I think he’s very concerned and very serious about this.” Carlson did not respond to a request for comment.
The medical marijuana measure’s sponsor, Ray Morgan of Fargo, said he doesn’t expect Republicans to kill it. But he is frustrated by the pace of implementation.
“The decision was made by the voters of North Dakota and now it’s delays, stall, feet in the mud,” he said. “You know, we want to make sure we’re doing this right. It’s just, come on, let’s just get on with it.”