North Dakota’s governor has signed a bill allowing patients admitted to hospice care to self-certify as medical marijuana patients.
The legislation, which cleared the House in an 86-6 vote and the Senate unanimously in a 45-0 vote, was signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Doug Burgum (R).
Under the measure from Rep. Mary Schneider (D), terminally ill patients will be able to use proof of their admittance in hospice care in lieu of a doctor’s written recommendation to register as a medical cannabis patient.
As introduced, the measure would have given the self-certification option to any person age 65 and older, but that was amended out by the House Human Services Committee last month.
The new law states that regulators will have to issue a cannabis patient card within 14 days of receiving the documentation, and that application fees will be waived for qualifying hospice patients.
In the interest of expediency, the bill also makes it so designated caregivers will be able to pick up marijuana products for patients in hospice without going through a background check process, just as they’re already allowed to do for terminally ill patients.
“When someone is in hospice, they often don’t have the time to go through the entire process,” Senate Majority Caucus Leader Kristin Roers (R) said on the floor ahead of the vote to send the measure to the governor’s desk last week. “And so I wanted to allow there to be a little bit easier of a path if somebody was admitted into a hospice program to be able to obtain medical marijuana while they’re in that.”
Roers added that cannabis can be used as a substitute for opioids, and so access to marijuana could help them be “more alert in those final days and final hours of their lives that they spend with their families.”
Burgum previously signed a cannabis decriminalization measure into law in 2019.
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In terms of self-certification, a Washington, D.C. measure that became law this month following a congressional review period codifies the right of adults 21 and older to become medical cannabis patients without a doctor’s recommendation—effectively circumventing a congressional spending bill rider that blocks the District from using its tax dollars to set up a system of recreational sales despite voters approving legalization at the ballot in 2014.
Back in North Dakota, voters have twice rejected ballot proposals to legalize marijuana for adult use, first in 2018 and then again during last year’s election.
The ballot initiative was similar to a bill that was introduced in the legislature in 2021. The proposal from Rep. Jason Dockter (R) passed the House, but it was defeated in the full Senate after advancing out of committee there.
Meanwhile, a bill to significantly expand North Dakota’s current marijuana decriminalization policy cleared the House last year but was later defeated in the Senate.
Under the current statute, possession of half an ounce or less of cannabis is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, with no jail time. The defeated proposal would’ve made possession of up to an ounce a non-criminal offense that carried a $50 fine.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.
The legislature also recently passed a resolution that encourages residents to buy U.S. flags that are made out of hemp and manufactured in the state.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R) previously said that he’s not “a marijuana person,” but he’s acknowledged that cannabis legalization is coming. Pollert said that voter approval of a legalization initiative in South Dakota in 2020 has made him reconsider his position on the issue, adding that the legislature should “take a long, hard look” at the policy change.