Fight for medical marijuana fires up in ND

If you ask Rilie Morgan, it's time for North Dakota to make medical marijuana legal. The affable silver-haired financial planner, who goes by his middle name, Ray, has neuropathy. The neurological affliction has for the past two years given the 6...

Ray Morgan, a 64-year-old Fargoan, has neuropathy, a neurological condition that for the last two years has left him with a constant tingling sensation, sometimes punctuated by shooting pains. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Dave Wallis

If you ask Rilie Morgan, it’s time for North Dakota to make medical marijuana legal.

The affable silver-haired financial planner, who goes by his middle name, Ray, has neuropathy.

The neurological affliction has for the past two years given the 64-year-old Fargo man constant tingling in his feet and calves, sometimes punctuated by sharp shooting pains.

“It’s like when your hand or foot falls asleep and you get a tingling sensation. It’s constant. It’s 24/7,” Morgan said.

“If your mind is busy, then it’s not too bad. But once in a while there is some pain, a shooting pain that’s like, ‘Wow! Where did that come from?’ ” he said. “You always know it’s there.”


Morgan, a partner in a Fargo financial firm, said a painkiller he uses can cause liver damage. He used morphine for several months after a back surgery. That’s a route he doesn’t want to take again.

He said medical cannabis may make the pain “a little more tolerable. I’d like to explore the possibility anyway.”

State Rep. Pamela Anderson, a Fargo Democrat, has taken up Morgan’s cause, and introduced House Bill 1430 on Monday.

The bill would allow patients and caregivers to possess up to 2½ ounces of cannabis – or products such as cannabis oils, beverages, vapors, extracts, ointments or pills – for medical use.

It also has a provision that allows people who have obtained a prescription for medical marijuana to cultivate up to six marijuana plants.

The bill lists a number of ills eligible for treatment: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, agitation due to Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Conditions that lead to wasting, severe debilitating pain or nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis are also listed, with an option for more to be added.

HB 1430 was crafted from information on what other states have done to regulate medical marijuana that was provided by the Council for State Governments, Anderson said.


She said she’s heard from people suffering from glaucoma, multiple sclerosis or seizures who would support legalizing medical cannabis in North Dakota.

To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical cannabis, including neighboring Minnesota and Montana.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, a co-sponsor of the bill, has her own connection to the issue – a son who suffers from seizures.

“More than one neurologist has said that if he could, he would prescribe medical marijuana,” Hawken said. “They think it does work.”

She said the bill contains controls on medical marijuana products from farm to pharmacy.

But she’s unsure of its fate – at least this year.

“I think it is something that will eventually pass. This session? Well, stranger things have happened,” Hawken said. “Realistically, at least the discussion will start.”

The 29-page bill provides for:


  • Exemptions from prosecution for the possession, manufacture or sale of medical marijuana for those licensed, and for people certified as in need of medical marijuana by a physician.
  • Creating a system to license manufacturing and distribution of medical marijuana products.
  • Criminal penalties for violating provisions of the medical marijuana law.
  • Protections from discrimination in schooling and housing for medical cannabis users, unless allowing the use would violate federal law or regulations.

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, another bill sponsor, said he used to smoke a joint now and then 30 years ago.
“It seems to me the whole hysteria was misplaced,” Glassheim said.

Now, he’s being treated for cancer.

“It’s not in remission, but it’s not spreading. I feel OK,” he said. He understands that others dealing with the side effects of cancer treatments could benefit from having medical marijuana available as an option.

“I certainly could imagine a situation where you’re nauseous or where you’re in unbearable pain,” Glassheim said.

Supporting the bill, “just seemed to me to be a rational thing to do,” he said.

Glassheim expects some resistance.

“It may have to wait until next session. I expect it will pass one of these days,” he said. “It’s one of these bills people have to get their minds around.”

Morgan, meanwhile, is planning a trip to Arizona to test-drive the idea of becoming a snowbird as he nears retirement. Arizona also allows medical cannabis to treat a number of ailments, he said.


But he will hop on a plane to Bismarck to testify for HB 1430, he said.

“I think medical marijuana has been understudied” for its efficacy, Morgan said. “I think it’s time to explore the options and let pharmaceutical companies see what they can come up with. It’s time.”

Other sponsors of HB 1430 are Andrew Maragos, R-Minot; Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla; Mary Schneider, D-Fargo; and Marie Strinden, D-Grand Forks.

Lower pot penalties?

Another North Dakota House bill aims to lower penalties for college students caught with small amounts of marijuana on campus.

HB 1394, sponsored by Reps. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, and Hawken, would make the possession of one-half ounce to a full ounce of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, down from its current designation as a Class B felony.

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Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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