- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - People suffering chronic pain and parents of critically ill children pleaded with North Dakota lawmakers Wednesday to legalize medicinal marijuana products, while the state’s top law enforcement and health officials said doing so would be a threat to public health and safety.

Democratic Rep. Pam Anderson, a freshman lawmaker from Fargo, introduced the bill that has bipartisan support. The legislation would allow up to 2 ounces of pot or cannabis-related products for medical use; it also would be legal to grow up to six marijuana plants in home pot gardens.

The measure would let someone who suffers from cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating illnesses use marijuana if a doctor recommends it. Marijuana may not be smoked as a form of medicine, the measure says - only products derived from pot such as oils, ointments, beverages and edible products could be used.

“This is a quality of life issue, not a drug issue,” said Anderson, who introduced the legislation at the request of one of her constituents who suffers from chronic pain.

The committee took no action on the measure. The full House will debate it later.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the 29-page bill, which he believes would allow residents to “go grow yourself some marijuana and take it as you see fit,” raised numerous regulatory and public health concerns.

“This bill creates a new and dangerous method to deliver what purports to be a prescription medication,” Stenehjem said. “Just about anyone could be a pharmaceutical company - all without any oversight to assure quality and safety.”

Stenehjem’s comments came following often-emotional testimony from parents whose children are terminally ill and see the drug as a hope to ease their pain and suffering. Several of the lawmakers and spectators at the hearing fought back tears.

Ashley Riggs of Minot told the committee that she has two sons who are terminally ill and suffer from seizures and other symptoms. She said her children and others likely could be helped by medicinal marijuana.

“Our children deserve to live their lives as comfortably and happily as possible,” Riggs said. “They have already been handed what is in essence a death sentence.”

Riggs asked that lawmakers “look past the preconceived notions of stereotyped marijuana.”

Tracy Vearrier, a physician’s assistant from Bismarck, wheeled his 12-year-old daughter Paige to the podium before he addressed the committee in support of the measure. Paige was born with her intestines on the outside of her body and suffered a stroke that left her unable to walk or talk.

“We do not ask for a medication to make our kids walk, talk, call me daddy. We just ask for her to be content,” Vearrier said. “We don’t want to make our kids high. We want to make their quality of life better.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures said 23 states have laws allowing medical marijuana. But it is still illegal at the federal level and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved it

The state Health Department estimated it would cost the state about $3.8 million over the next two years to oversee a program to regulate medical marijuana.

Dr. Terry Dwelle, the agency’s chief administrator, said some drugs derived from marijuana have been made but approved uses are limited.

Dwelle said the measure would require the state to “perform the duties of the FDA,” something that is “way beyond the capacity” of his agency.

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