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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 22 2014

No plans in works for medical marijuana vote in ND

FARGO – The chairman of the last attempt to get marijuana legalized for medical use in North Dakota says he can’t get fired up about leading another effort anytime soon, even as the debate promises to light up the Minnesota Legislature in February.

Rep. Steve Zaiser, a Democrat who represents Fargo’s District 21, said he has no intent to push a vote on the issues again after the 2012 attempt, which ended when it turned out some of the petitions for the medical marijuana initiative and other proposed ballot measures included faked signatures.

“That was an exhausting – frustrating as well – experience,” Zaiser said.

Other members of the sponsoring committee, including John Helgeland and Brandon Wald of Fargo, have heard no rumblings about renewed attempts to get the medical marijuana issue back in front of voters. But at least one man is ready to jump into the fray again.

“I’d be willing to sponsor it again. You bet. Absolutely!” said Del Snavely of Crosby.

Snavely said he’s been fighting to get marijuana legalized for medical use here since 2006, when he moved to North Dakota from Washington state.

“Most people here are ready for it. It’s time to just get it over with,” said Snavely, who is active in online discussions at www.medicalcannabisnd.proboards.com.

He said it will take a strong leader from one of the state’s major cities to get the issue to voters, particularly after the disappointment of 2012.

“It just seemed like the whole thing died. I can tell you, there were a lot of (angry) people.”

Zaiser said the Legislature is too conservative to offer a realistic chance of passing a medical marijuana bill. He predicted perhaps only one or two other legislators would support it.

The best hope for getting medical marijuana approved is to have it passed through the initiative process, Zaiser said.

“I do think it would have a chance. I’d say 50-50 to pass, through an initiative with the people, just the public, voting on it,” he said.

Minnesota lawmakers are expected to take up the medical marijuana issue when the Legislature opens for business on Feb. 25.

Bills by Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, that were carried over from the 2013 session will then get their first hearings.

There appears to be popular support for a medical marijuana law in Minnesota. A St. Cloud State University survey released earlier this month found that 76 percent of Minnesotans polled favored legalizing medical marijuana, while 20 percent opposed it and 4 percent did not have a stance.

The survey, conducted Oct. 20-27, 2013, found a less favorable buzz among those polled on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The poll found 46 percent favored recreational marijuana, with 48 percent against. Six percent did not have a stance.

A medical marijuana bill cleared the Minnesota Legislature in 2009, but it was vetoed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton isn’t exactly high on seeing medical marijuana approved, either. Dayton told reporters Tuesday in a Capitol briefing that he still opposes legalizing pot for medical use, the Pioneer Press reported online.

Dayton told reporters he would sign a bill legalizing medical marijuana only if opponents in the law enforcement community agree to support it.

Dayton said there are still questions to be answered – including defining who needs marijuana for medical use, the cost and how to control distribution.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now allow the medical use of marijuana.

The states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Colorado and Washington are the only states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

In May 2012, Zaiser submitted an initiative to make using and growing marijuana for medical purposes legal in North Dakota.

The proposal called for allowing patients diagnosed with debilitating illnesses, such as cancer, glaucoma or Alzheimer’s disease, to possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana at a time.

Use in public was not to be allowed, and the proposed law set strict limits for growing medical pot.

The petition needed 13,452 signatures by Aug. 8 to make it on the November general election ballot.

Supporters of the initiative turned in about 20,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office in early August.

The initiative was upended when it was determined that many of the signatures on petitions for the medical marijuana initiative, as well as for a separate petition drive, were forged.

Fifteen people involved in collecting signatures for both petitions were eventually charged in the case, many of them current or former football players for North Dakota State University.

Though he isn’t interested in the near future, Zaiser didn’t rule out leading another drive for medical marijuana.

“Maybe someday, someday I might do it. Who knows? But I’m not going to do it for this coming session,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583