Senate Bill 2344, has been dubbed the Compassionate Care Act. Designed to sound (to most) like a compassionate way for the terminally ill to ease their suffering by ingesting, particularly smoking, marijuana. The constitutional amendment was drafted by marijuana aficionados and, had serious flaws.
So, after many revisions, redactions and amendments, the final verdict? You can now legally smoke marijuana in North Dakota—sort of. Essentially, anybody who claims they have fibromyalgia, nausea or chronic pain can get a photo ID (Registry Identification Card) from the Department of Health and purchase/possess up to 2.5 ounces per month with no more than 3 ounces on their person at any one time. The potency of the substance is also limited to 2,000 milligrams of THC (or less) per month.
The new law also restricts the prescribing of marijuana to licensed health care providers (a physician or advanced practice registered nurse) who must, first, actually review a patient’s medical history, make a full assessment, a face-to-face examination and the patient must remain under their “continued care” for a “debilitating medical condition that qualifies the patient for the medical use of marijuana.”
One other caveat is that the health care provider cannot be used by a patient simply for the sake of getting medical marijuana—the bane of other states who have passed similar legislation. Different forms of medical marijuana now include a concentrate (non-plant form), edible products, tincture (liquid solution), topicals (salves), and transdermal patches.
In addition to pain, nausea and fibromyalgia, other “debilitating medical conditions” include those that voters envisioned: cancer, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, PTSD, Alzheimer’s or related dementia, Crohn’s disease, spinal stenosis, chronic back pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, any terminal illness, a chronic/debilitating condition that causes cachexia, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or multiple sclerosis.
Minors must have their parent’s/legal guardian’s cooperation to get “pediatric medical marijuana”. This adult has to also either be the minor’s caregiver or designate another adult to perform that function. And, this “caregiver” must personally supervise the administration and consumption of the marijuana.
Essentially, the Dept. of Health has been tasked with monitoring and administrating the licensing of qualifying patients, health care providers, designated caregivers (people who dispense marijuana), manufacturers (the guys who grow it) and “Compassion Centers” (retail dispensaries). Actually, both manufacturers AND dispensaries are called compassion centers with, currently, only two manufacturers and eight dispensaries authorized statewide.
Their “licenses” expire every year and have to be renewed at least forty-five days before expiration. The only qualification to be an employee/agent of these centers is that an individual may not have been convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor offense within five years or, any felony offense.
A confusing part of the statute is that the Dept. of Health appears to be the investigative agency (not law enforcement) for violations of the Act. And, only “credible criminal complaints” are forwarded to “appropriate state or local law enforcement authorities.” However, it is a class B felony for any compassion center, agent or employee to sell or transfer marijuana without following this new law. So, states attorneys are taking the position that an ID card is an affirmative defense (rebuttable presumption) to a normal drug charge NOT a per se bar to arrest or, further inquiry when there is probable cause to believe that an offender is acting outside the confines of the Act.
One other cumbersome part is the regulation of security at compassion centers including manufacturing, storage, secured entrances/access, theft deterrence, alarm systems, registration verification of clients, inventory control, book keeping, agent training and pesticide testing. If a lab test indicates pesticide contamination, the entire inventory must be destroyed.
The Act also exempts from prosecution any person “for being in the presence or vicinity of the medical use of marijuana”. No contact highs? However, the new statute specifically allows employers to take punitive action against employees “possessing or consuming usable marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of marijuana.” And, it is still a crime to possess/consume pot on a school bus/van, on school property, at a correctional facility, at a child care facility, or, licensed home day care.
Restrictions also apply to medical marijuana if smoking/vaporizing it could be inhaled by a non-registered minor. And, it is still a DUI to operate, navigate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle, aircraft, train, or motorboat. That is unless the offender is “a registered qualifying patient” who merely has “the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana” in their bloodstream in an “insufficient concentration to cause impairment.”
Private insurance, medical assistance programs or other guarantors do not have to reimburse costs for medical marijuana. Nor does a “person in lawful possession of property have to allow a guest, client, customer, or other visitor to possess or consume usable marijuana on/in that property.” Landlords can only prevent “production or processing on rental property” and health care providers can refuse to recommend marijuana to a patient.
Basic care, nursing, assisted living, or adult day/foster care facilities may only place “reasonable restrictions on the medical use of marijuana by residents or individuals” including refusing to store/maintain it, provide it to a client, mandate some form other smoking/vaporizing, and confining ingestion to a specific place in the facility.
All records maintained under this new law are confidential and, appear to be an exception to North Dakota’s Open Records law. A 6-member Advisory Board must be appointed by the Governor to help supervise this process. And, there is now a Medical Marijuana Fund in the state treasury for “all fees collected” to be used to fund the Dept. of Health’s supervision.