Today marks 367 days since the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana, but earlier this week, the North Dakota Department of Health estimated it would be another year before the first prescriptions are filled.

On Monday, the department announced that it had created a set of proposed rules. Hearings on those rules are scheduled for December around the state, including for Dec. 11 in Williston.

In a statement, State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte called the process thoughtful. Another word would be inexplicably slow.

Opponents of initiated measures point to the Compassionate Care Act as an example of how flawed the ballot measure process can be, reserving special snark for the idea that the law designed to legalize medical marijuana didn’t actually contain language legalizing it.

It was an imperfect measure, to be sure, but that still doesn’t explain the interminable process that we’ve seen so far.

One reason for the holdup was obstruction in the Legislature. Lawmakers who opposed medical marijuana spent time this session trying to limit the impact of the law. We’re glad they failed in that attempt.

After the bill got final approval from legislators, the process should have moved much more quickly. We don’t dispute that this is a complicated issue, but North Dakota’s law doesn’t break new ground.

Minnesota approved medical marijuana in 2014. Montana approved it in 2004 and broadened its law in 2016.

The first state to OK medical marijuana was California, and that happened in 1996.

That means not only are there models for North Dakota to base its rules on, some of them have been in effect since before some of the voters who approved our law were even born.

We are glad that North Dakota has joined with the 28 other states that have approved medical marijuana. And no one expected the rulemaking to happen overnight.

The original estimate of 12 to 18 months before the first prescriptions were filled seemed pessimistic at the time, but now might turn out to be wildly optimistic.

That’s a shame, because each day that passes is another day where patients who could truly benefit from medical marijuana don’t have that opportunity.

 

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