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Published May 22, 2012, 05:17 PM

ND Lawmaker Heads Medical Marijuana Initiative

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in North Dakota turned in a proposed initiative Tuesday to put the issue on the November ballot.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in North Dakota turned in a proposed initiative Tuesday to put the issue on the November ballot.

With voters' approval, 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.

The chairman of the initiative effort, state Rep. Steve Zaiser, D-Fargo, said he believed people with chronic pain would qualify.

"Marijuana has proven that it has helped people, and doctors will testify to that effect," Zaiser said. "I don't want any more North Dakotans to suffer unnecessarily."

The 22-page initiative, which was submitted to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Tuesday, would make it legal for North Dakota residents to possess up to 2 ½ 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.

Montana and 16 other states already have laws that allow the medical use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Voters in South Dakota have rejected medical marijuana initiatives twice, most recently in 2010.

North Dakota allows residents to put proposed state laws and constitutional amendments directly to a vote if the initiative's backers can gather enough support.

To qualify for the general election, the medical marijuana initiative will need petition signatures from at least 13,452 eligible North Dakota voters. The petitions must be turned in by midnight Aug. 8.

Zaiser said he suffers from chronic pain himself because of nerve damage from a series of strokes. He said he has never used marijuana as a pain reliever and would like the option of doing so.

The proposed law provides a tight regulatory structure for dispensing marijuana, and should not make the drug more readily available, Zaiser said.

The proposed law bars medical marijuana use on school buses and grounds, and in jails and prisons. It prohibits smoking marijuana in public and does not exempt medical marijuana users from laws against driving while impaired.

"It's not going to be a way for young people just to get stoned," Zaiser said. "It won't be a gateway into smoking pot. I don't believe it will. I'm betting on it, otherwise I wouldn't do this. That's the last thing I want."


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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