by Phillip Smith
North Dakota could be voting on medical marijuana in November. Proponents of a medical marijuana initiative there handed in about 20,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office Monday.
They need 13,500 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Election officials have about a month to review the signatures and decide whether they are valid.
Sponsored by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care, the initiative would allow people suffering from specified illnesses -- including cancer, glaucoma, and PTSD -- to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Patients could possess up to 2 Â½ ounces and could grow up to 12 plants in an enclosed, locked space. Designated caregivers who grow for more than one patient are limited to 30 plants.The initiative also contains provisions for cultivation, processing, and distribution centers, or dispensaries. Such "medical marijuana organizations" would be registered with the state.
Medical marijuana has never come before the North Dakota legislature, and this is the first time a serious effort through the initiative process has been undertaken. Neighboring South Dakota is the only state to defeat an initiative legalizing medical marijuana, and has done so twice.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws, including North Dakota's Western neighbor, Montana.
Dave Schwartz, the group's treasurer, said he believed public attitudes about medical marijuana in North Dakota have shifted in favor of those who advocate for it. Many people know someone who has suffered from chronic pain, a debilitating illness, or cancer chemotherapy, and there is growing knowledge that marijuana can help, he told the Associated Press.
"Some of the myths that we often hear is that, this is only for people to just go ahead and get high, and that's not the case," Schwartz said. "This is about medical patients that would benefit greatly from it."