While voters easily approved a medical marijuana measure last year, government leaders seemingly haven’t been in any rush to implement it. The delay could backfire on those skeptical about the use of medical marijuana.

Legislators amended the initiated measure to decriminalize medical marijuana use and to make it comply with federal guidelines. The Legislature also put the North Dakota Department of Health in charge of developing administrative rules for the program.

The rules will determine how the product will be transported, packaged and tested, along with a variety of other requirements. The Health Department doesn't plan to accept applications for manufacturing facilities or dispensaries until at least April 1. Public hearings were held across the state recently to gather public comments on the proposed rules.

In fairness to state officials, there’s not a quick way to implement a statewide program like medical marijuana use. It has taken other states a number of years to adopt programs. At the same time, someone seeking legal marijuana for pain relief has to be frustrated by the process. Help is so close, but still months away.

That’s why at one of the hearings state officials were warned that voters might approve a measure to allow recreational marijuana use. The secretary of state has approved the format of petitions to get the measure on the ballot. Supporters hope to get enough signatures in time to place it on the November 2018 ballot.

On the surface it would appear North Dakotans wouldn’t favor legalizing marijuana. However, North Dakotans have an independent streak to go along with their conservatism. If November finds the measure on the ballot and state officials are still working on the details of the medical marijuana program there may be enough voters who think the state is taking too much time.

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So, if nothing else, officials must convince residents they are working as fast as possible to begin the medical marijuana program. North Dakotans don’t like to see their votes ignored.

The Tribune Editorial Board doesn’t favor legalizing marijuana. We believe the medical marijuana program will address a major need and should be implemented as quickly as possible. The Legislature also should continue to examine the criminal penalties involving marijuana use.

The frustration of those who feel they need marijuana to deal with their illnesses is understandable. State officials should strive to begin the medical marijuana program before November.

— Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune

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