- Associated Press - Monday, October 26, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in North Dakota are ready to submit a proposed initiative to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot, the chairman of effort said Monday.

The citizen initiative seeks to establish a state-regulated system of medical marijuana dispensaries where people could buy the drug if a doctor recommended its use for pain relief. Rilie Ray Morgan, a Fargo financial planner heading the initiative, said the 23-page document will be submitted to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Tuesday.

North Dakota’s Republican-led House rejected a bipartisan measure this year to legalize medical marijuana. People suffering chronic pain and parents of critically ill children pleaded with lawmakers to pass the measure, while state law enforcement and health officials said doing so would be a threat to public health and safety. Morgan said he believes “a vast majority” of North Dakotans support marijuana for medical purposes.

To qualify for the general election, the medical marijuana initiative will need petition signatures from about 13,500 eligible North Dakota voters.

The initiative would allow someone who suffers from a debilitating illness to use marijuana with a doctor’s permission. It lists cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma and other illnesses as examples of debilitating conditions, according to a copy of the initiative obtained by The Associated Press.

The initiative would make it legal for North Dakota residents to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes. It says those who qualify could obtain the drug from a state-licensed dispensary or grow a limited supply for personal use. It prohibits smoking marijuana in public and does not exempt medical marijuana users from laws against driving while impaired.

“We’re calling it the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act and the dispensaries Compassionate Care Centers,” Morgan said. “We want to soften it and eliminate any negative connotations.”

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 the drug’s medicinal use.

Morgan said the initiative was crafted using others states’ legislation as a template. The initiative also is similar to the failed measure introduced this year by Rep. Pam Anderson, D-Fargo, at the request of Morgan, who said he suffers from chronic back pain. He said he has never used marijuana as a pain reliever but would like the option of doing so.

Anderson had warned fellow lawmakers that killing the bill would spark a citizen-initiated measure.

“I testified on the floor that if we don’t approve it, we’ll get what they give us,” Anderson said.

Citizen initiatives allow residents to bypass lawmakers by getting proposed state laws and constitutional amendments on voter ballots if they gather enough signatures from supportive voters.

Morgan’s initiative also is similar to one that appeared on the statewide ballot in 2012 but was denied by the state Supreme Court after Secretary of State Jaeger found evidence that some North Dakota State University football players forged signatures after they were hired and paid to circulate the petition.

Morgan said the 27-member committee collecting signatures for the new initiative are doing it at no cost.

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