- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Minot Daily News, Minot, July 13, 2016

Voters might have some homework to do

Supporters of medical marijuana in North Dakota advanced their cause Monday, having apparently secured enough signatures to get their measure on November’s ballot.

If enough of the signatures prove legitimate, voters will have a big decision to make come November.

Taking issues straight to the people is a right North Dakotans cherish. And most voters know that with that right comes the responsibility to do not simply what is just for some but what is best for all.

It might well be true that marijuana provides relief from chronic pain as has been touted for years by those in the medical marijuana camp. According to an Associated Press report, the medical marijuana 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. It prohibits smoking marijuana in public and does not exempt medical marijuana users from laws against driving while impaired.”

But will there be a price to pay among the rest of the population if a known gateway drug becomes more acceptable? Will the proverbial camel’s nose be welcomed into the tent?

That’s a tough call, perhaps one that should have been made by the Legislature whose laws are more easily undone when time proves them to be bad laws. (North Dakota’s Republican-led House rejected a bipartisan measure last year to legalize medical marijuana.)

But that time has passed. Voters will more than likely decide the issue when they go to the polls Nov. 8, before the Legislature convenes again.

We can only hope that voters take the time to consider the various sides of the issue before casting their votes.

If they do, the outcome will be the correct one either way because the people will have decided. And the responsibility for what follows will be theirs.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, July 14, 2016

Flexibility helpful in legal system

Some new rules could prove helpful to lawyers and clients while reducing the number of self-represented litigants.

Last month the North Dakota Supreme Court approved new rules that let lawyers help someone on part of a case without committing the lawyer to represent the person for the duration of the proceedings. The changes are intended to ease the problem caused by a shortage of lawyers and provide affordable legal services.

It’s also hoped the change will ease the burden on Legal Services of North Dakota, a statewide group providing free legal help to low-income and elderly residents. The 12 lawyers in the organization get about 2,500 calls they can’t handle each year, Legal Services Executive Director Richard LeMay told reporter Caroline Grueskin.

This rule should be beneficial to all. Those representing themselves are at a disadvantage, lacking the knowledge of the law that might be key to their case. The change allows lawyers to contract with clients to write a pleading or represent them once in court. They can then quit the case. At the moment, lawyers need the approval of a judge to leave a case. The change doesn’t mean all lawyers will be comfortable helping people on a limited basis. It does open the door, starting Aug. 1, for more legal help for those who lack financial resources. It becomes a more fair playing field.

It will be interesting to see how many lawyers and clients make use of this new rule. Having options don’t always mean they will be used.

State law requires mandatory minimums for certain violent offenses, but judges can stray from those minimums if they decide the prison term would result in a “manifest injustice,” or would be “unreasonably harsh or shocking to the conscience of a reasonable individual, with due consideration of the totality of circumstances.”

A North Dakota state court system study found that only once in the last 12 months did a judge not follow the minimum requirement. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem who favored allowing judges an out from mandatory minimum sentences isn’t surprised by the study results. He says the extra step of finding manifest injustice might deter judges.

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, isn’t fond of mandatory minimum sentences. He would like the Legislature to review the instances in which they are used. It makes sense for the Legislature to do so since it’s expected to take up a number of court and prison reforms during the 2017 session.

It’s good that lawyers will have some flexibility in representing clients and that judges don’t have to always follow mandatory minimums. If a system is too rigid there are opportunities for misjustice.

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