North Dakota House OKs Medical Marijuana Law Changes

By | February 20, 2019

The North Dakota House approved legislation that would expand the list of medical conditions for which residents can use medical marijuana, add health care professionals who can certify patients for the drug and increase the forms it can come in.

House members also endorsed a proposed change in state law that could make it easier for patients to get doctor approval for the drug. All the changes will need Senate approval before they can take effect.

Getting the necessary approval from doctors and advanced practice registered nurses has been a stumbling block for patients who want to apply for a state medical marijuana card, according to advocates. The medical community has cited several concerns , including that marijuana can be addictive, can have adverse side effects and is still technically illegal under federal law.

The House voted 90-3 in favor of removing a requirement in state law that health professionals who certify a patient attest that medical marijuana will help that person. The North Dakota Medical Association has said that puts many doctors in an uncomfortable legal and ethical position because research on the efficacy of medical marijuana is lacking.

“Doctors are worried that if they would say this, they would risk losing their federal license and also their malpractice insurance,” said Rep. Matthew Ruby, R-Minot.

Sheri Paulson, an eastern North Dakota farmer who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she hopes removing the requirement would make doctors more willing to certify patients.

“Maybe they’re not comfortable right now, and this might help alleviate that,” she said.

Under the House-approved change, health professionals would need to assert only that a patient has a condition that legally qualifies for medical marijuana. The House also voted 89-4 in favor of expanding the list of legal conditions from 17 to 30, along with terminal illnesses. New approved conditions would include Tourette syndrome, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, opioid withdrawal and autism spectrum disorders.

The House also voted in favor of allowing cancer patients to have higher amounts of medical marijuana. And they approved a bill that would add physician assistants to the list of medical professionals who can certify patients. However, they rejected adding naturopaths, or natural healers.

North Dakota voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016, and the Legislature the following year crafted regulations for the drug’s use. That included six forms of the drug, but one of them was not edibles. A bill passed by the House 72-21 on Monday would add edibles as an approved form, as long as it is not in a form such as gummy bears that could be marketed to children.

Some lawmakers wondered if children could still be at risk if edible marijuana was left in an accessible area, but others noted that it would be no different than other prescription drugs.

“There has to be a certain level of parental responsibility, or adult responsibility, in the home,” said Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, D-Fargo.

None of the bills include an earlier proposal that would have scrapped a requirement that there be a continuing care relationship between a certifying health professional and a patient.

“We wanted to be sure we didn’t have doctor-shopping,” said Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield.

The Health Department hopes to have medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the state’s eight major cities by fall. Medical marijuana grown at a state-approved Bismarck manufacturing facility could be available at either the Grand Forks or Fargo dispensary within weeks. The state estimates that as many as 4,000 residents will legally be using the drug by summer 2021.

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