NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No Pot Luck For North Dakota

Just say no? From Nancy Reagan to North Dakota, that pointless advice has fogged up every debate about marijuana’s legal status from the Jazz Age to the hippie era … right up to this week, when a legislative committee snuffed out a resolution that dared to even bring it up.

medpotYet a rising chorus of voices questions why it ever became illegal in the first place.

The North Dakota House of Representatives narrowly killed a bipartisan bill last month that would have permitted the sale of medical marijuana. Too little was known, opponents said. Too risky. Too many questions.

So, State Rep. Gail Mooney of Cummings submitted a resolution to find some answers. The modest measure was narrowly drawn, focusing only on cannabidiol, just one of many potentially beneficial compounds contained within the plant, and guaranteed to possess not one iota of psychoactive magic.

Despite bipartisan support, the House Human Services Committee torpedoed it by one vote with a “do not pass” by Tuesday. One of its Republican opponents commented that, since drug companies are already studying it, “I’m wondering about the purpose of this resolution.”

Perhaps, he should have read it. Here’s its purpose: “to look at the regulation, distribution, enforcement and taxing of medical marijuana.” Rather than some diabolical plot to light up North Dakota, my guess is that the subtext is fairly simple. It’s time to ready the ever-reluctant space between Montana and Minnesota to face up to the inevitable.

Yes, it’s coming. The only real question is whether the Legislature will tackle the issue head-on or fall back on the famous “North Dakota way” — that is, wait until legal marijuana sales are half-past-inevitable, quarter-to-too-late … and then claim it was their idea all along.

But as with countless other situations, fear of change (any change, any time, any reason) will mean North Dakota once again cedes its decision-making to forces outside its borders. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia now permit sales. Even Congress might decide the issue, if it ever again is capable of deciding anything.

Or the state may sit on its legislative haunches and await the initiated measure that’s almost sure to emerge in the imminent future. Given that statewide support of medical marijuana is already broad and well-documented (with 62 percent in favor, according to the Forum Communications/UND poll last October), we have a pretty good idea of how this will end.

That’s what happened in Montana fully 11 years ago, when 62 percent of voters approved an initiated measure for medical marijuana. Instead of handing the reins (and potential profit) to Big Pharma by mandating only the sale of processed oils and tablets, voters simply approved possession of real, live native plants. Montana residents with a medical diagnosis may possess up to a dozen seedlings or four mature plants or an ounce of usable product. An anti-marijuana coalition referred the law in 2012 — and suffered ringing defeat by a vote of 56 percent to 43 percent.

Compared to those cowboys, Minnesota — at the blinding speed of stoic, ponderous but ultimately sensible Scandinavian and German farmers — took 10 more years to man up. Two medical marijuana dispensaries — one here in Moorhead — open their doors in July. Maintaining their caution, legislators limited availability to a list of specific medical conditions and a variety of forms defined as “medical delivery methods.” (Nope, smoking isn’t one of them.) The same fearful arguments heard in Bismarck this week were debated last year in St. Paul … and then emphatically rejected. The measure passed with solid bipartisan support — 46-16 in the Senate, 89-40 in the House.

And it can’t come too soon for those of us who’ve watched a loved one grapple with intractable pain. That includes Russ and me.

For the past two years, we’ve watched someone very near and dear to us battle debilitating nerve pain that resisted her doctors’ best efforts to help. Her personal purgatory began with a garden-variety case of shingles that evolved into the dreaded PHN, post-herpetic neuralgia. Excellent medical care from the very beginning failed miserably to deal with her devilish pain and its physical and emotional ramifications. Each and every prescribed patented drug added its own often-baffling side effects, requiring yet another FDA-approved potion or two to attempt to turn it back.

It has been hell.

If medical marijuana were already available, it might — might — have offered her the solution that fantastically expensive Big Pharma miracle drugs so clearly have not. Maybe yes. Maybe no. But because some old guys in the Capitol were terrified that treatment might accidentally raise her mood even while offering relief from life-changing pain, the only realistic choice has been Big Pharma and its obscenely profitable, far more addictive products.

A quick trip to the 21st century is just what the doctor should be able to order.

* * *

Marijuana prohibition rests on a much larger and darker foundation — the sordid story of how it came about in the first place.

A century ago, an ambitious booze-busting bureaucrat named Harry Anslinger built an empire in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics by creating and then fanning America’s enormous fear of marijuana.

Originally employed to chase moonshiners, Anslinger found his eager force of enforcers and well-funded agency minus their mission when the 21st Amendment rolled back Prohibition in 1933. He turned his attention to marijuana, conveniently tapping into the majority’s racist fear and suspicion of the Mexicans and black Americans who first smoked it.

What we “know” about pot today draws directly on the scare campaign he so ably ginned up — aided and abetted by allies like the yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst and the movie moguls behind idiotic fare like “Reefer Madness.”

Then, as now, fear is the most devastating drug. Countless evils have been spawned from the seeds Anslinger planted, from international drug cartels’ hideous violence to prisons popping at the seams with nonviolent convicts who clearly pose no threat. For a well-documented study of how Anslinger’s life’s work has come to dominate popular thinking, see author Johann Hari’s history “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.)

* * *

UPDATE: “House lawmakers voted nearly 2-to-1 Monday [March 16, 2015] not to study the legalization of medical marijuana in North Dakota, despite warnings from study supporters that voters may take matters into their own hands if lawmakers fail to address the issue.

“‘If we don’t study this, we’re going to get what we get at the ballot box. So let’s do it our way. Let’s control it,’ said Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo.” — Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service

One thought on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No Pot Luck For North Dakota”

  • Therese March 13, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Good job Nancy. Very thought provoking with good information about the history of these laws.


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