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North Dakota lawmakers to study implications of marijuana legalization

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers agreed to study the implications of legalizing recreational marijuana Tuesday, May 28, ahead of another expected ballot measure campaign.

Legislative Management, a committee that oversees lawmakers' work between sessions, approved 46 study topics Tuesday while rejecting another nearly two dozen ideas.

Some lawmakers resisted examining marijuana legalization. Bismarck Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin worried it would give proponents a platform to campaign.

But Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said the study could allow lawmakers to be more "proactive" if legalized marijuana comes to North Dakota.

"If the people go ahead and approve this at the ballot, what is our role?" she said.

The broad study would examine the potential benefits and detriments of marijuana legalization.

"If you're going to look at it, I think you have to look at it fairly from both sides," said Rep. Bill Devlin, R-Finley.

North Dakotans rejected recreational marijuana last year, but two proposed ballot measures are in the works. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016 and lawmakers struggled to rewrite what they called a flawed law during the following session.

On top of 50 optional reviews, lawmakers mandated 15 studies for this interim session to examine the potential uses of the voter-approved Legacy Fund, the state corrections system, new ethics requirements and education funding.

Lawmakers also voted Tuesday to study veterans programs, the state's behavioral health system and charitable gaming laws. But they declined to examine issues surrounding missing and murdered indigenous people, steps necessary to eliminate HIV and AIDS as well as state park usage.

Legislative Management will meet again June 10 to assign lawmakers to interim committees.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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