We have reached Day 66. As most of you have probably read, there are quite a few bills in conference committee. I believe that I counted 68 bills.
There are a number of policy bills which are still being worked on, but most of the issues revolve around appropriations. With the revenue being very tight, the Senate and House conferences are working hard to find the money to fund our priorities. As I have said before: Almost everyone has a different priority.
As I mentioned last week, the bill to fund county social services continues to move forward. Today Wednesday the House will take up that issue, and I believe it will pass in the House. The Senate will likely agree with the changes made by the House.
Today, we will also hear the Human Services budget. This is by far the largest budget for the state, with over $3 billion, of which about a third is general fund money. Much of this money goes to support our most vulnerable in nursing homes and group homes. It is a lot of money.
Last week, I was honored by the North Dakota EMS as one of the recipients of the Legislator of the Year Award. I am truly humbled and very appreciative. One cannot thank those volunteers enough who give their time and energy to serve us in our communities across the state a very big thank you.
Keep in touch. We are almost done.
Sen. Jerry Klein
Resolving marijuana measure problems
Last November, 63 percent of voters approved a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana in North Dakota. Unfortunately, the 38-page measure contained technical flaws and omissions. For instance, the measure did not decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. Without such language, anyone found in possession of even lawfully acquired medical marijuana could be charged with a crime.
To resolve the problems with the Compassionate Care Act, the legislature has engaged in a bipartisan effort to make necessary adjustments to ensure that access to high quality medical marijuana is available to all those with a written certification from a physician or APRN. Our goal has always been to respect the intent of North Dakotans who voted for an effective, safe and accessible system of delivering medical marijuana to patients.
When crafting the bill, the sponsors began by seeking recommendations for implementation from the Department of Health and the Attorney General. We also sought public input during the committee hearings in both chambers, and before the vote on the House floor, those who initiated the measure expressed their support for the amended version of SB 2344.
As legislators, we take seriously our responsibility to respect the will of our citizens and to represent their interests, and that's why we took the time to do it right the first time. SB 2344 ensures that patients who need marijuana to manage their medical conditions will have access to it without impediment, but also that the product is developed safely and uniformly, and that sale and delivery methods of medical marijuana are restricted to prevent its illegal use.
The original language on the ballot was compiled from the laws of different states. As written, Measure 5 is full of unfortunate oversights, and it would be nearly impossible to implement it without significant revision. It was imperative that we revised it to align with the North Dakota Century Code.
In addition to addressing the needed adjustments, SB 2344 includes provisions that will lead to increased public safety, including special protections for minors. The legislation also prioritizes increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the system while ensuring access to those seeking medical marijuana.
The system will begin with two manufacturers that can cultivate marijuana plants and eight dispensaries, but the Health Department has control to add more if demand deems it necessary. In addition, designated caregivers approved by the state will be available to assist patients who live farther away from these centers to get the medicine they need as well as minors. This improved system will save taxpayers money and lessen the burden on the health department and law enforcement.
As we move forward with the implementation of this bill and the program, we are committed to responsibly implementing the Compassionate Care Act and ensuring that North Dakotans have safe access to medical marijuana.
Rep. Robin Weisz