Signed as Law: North Dakota Expands Medical Marijuana Program Despite Federal Prohibition

By Michael Maharrey

BISMARCK, N.D. (April 26, 2019) – On Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill into a law that expands the state’s medical marijuana program despite federal prohibition. 

A coalition of 10 Republicans introduced House Bill 1283 (HB1283) in January. The new law makes several changes to the state’s medical marijuana program designed to increase patient access. Most significantly, It increases the number of qualifying conditions from 17 to 29 and expands the definition of “health care provider” to include physicians assistants, authorizing them to write medical marijuana recommendations. The new law also eliminates a provision that required doctors to attest that medical marijuana would definitively help a patient.

According to Marijuana Business Daily, the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program will not only expand access; it will also expand business opportunities for cannabis license holders.

The House gave final approval to HB1283 by an 85-6 vote. The Senate approved the measure 47-0. With Gov. Burgum’s signature, the law went into immediate effect.

This is another example of the rapidly expanding availability of marijuana despite federal prohibition.

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Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

North Dakota’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Passage of HB1283 further undermines prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in the Sunshine State.


North Dakota joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.

With 33 states including North Dakota allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

Expansion of medical marijuana laws in North Dakota demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing cannabis, they tend to eventually expand. HB1283 serves as a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. It also demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.

Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, where this article first appeared. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky. See his blog archive here and his article archive here. He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at and like him on Facebook HERE

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