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North Dakota House defeats bipartisan measure to make medical marijuana legal in the state

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota's Republican-led House Wednesday rejected a measure to legalize medical marijuana, citing concerns about public safety and the burden on law enforcement.

The House voted 67-26 to kill the bipartisan measure.

Democratic Rep. Pam Anderson, a freshman lawmaker from Fargo, introduced the bill at the request of one of her constituents who suffers from chronic pain. The bill would allow up to 2 ounces of pot or cannabis-related products for medical use. The measure was amended from an earlier version that would have allowed people to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes and grow up to six marijuana plants in home pot gardens.

"This is not a drug issue but a quality of life issue for the people of North Dakota," Anderson said.

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. Only products derived from pot such as oils, ointments, beverages and edible products could be used.

Health officials and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem have opposed the measure. Stenehjem testified at a hearing before the House Human Services Committee earlier this month that the bill does not address numerous regulatory and public safety concerns.

At the hearing, people suffering chronic pain and parents of critically ill children made emotional pleas to legalize medicinal marijuana products. The committee voted 8-3 to give the bill a "do not pass" recommendation

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield and chairman of the committee, said on the House floor Wednesday that he was moved by the testimony.

"It took a lot of strength and guts for them to basically lay out their lives," Weisz said. "If it happened to my son, I may have been in front of that committee also asking for the bill. (But) we just felt the concerns and risks at this time outweigh the potential benefits."

The state Health Department estimated it would cost about $3.8 million over the next two years to oversee a program to regulate medical marijuana, though those costs would largely be offset by user fees. The agency estimated it would collect medical marijuana registration fees from some 4,000 caregivers and more than 8,100 patients over the next two-year budget cycle.

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.

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