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Official: Injury claims could rise with recreational pot

February 4, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota could see a rise in workers’ compensation claims if marijuana is legalized, the state’s workplace safety agency told lawmakers Tuesday.

Jodi Bjornson, a lawyer for North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, said someone under the influence of marijuana who is hurt on the job would not be compensated presently because it would have been “presumed to have caused the work injury.”

But that could change if the drug is made legal for recreational use — unless lawmakers crafted rules to forbid it, Bjornson told the interim Judiciary Committee, a panel tasked with studying of the pros and cons of marijuana legalization.

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The study is required by a bill the Republican-led Legislature passed in 2019 and comes four years after lawmakers were caught off-guard by voters’ approval of medical marijuana, forcing a scramble to write rules implementing that law.

Backers of two proposed citizen-led initiatives that aim to make the drug legal for recreational use are gathering signatures to get them on the ballot this year. North Dakota voters in 2018 soundly rejected a marijuana legalization initiative that included a provision that would wipe out past pot-related convictions.

Supporters contend the legalization would free up law enforcement to tackle more serious crimes. They counted on a shoe-leather campaign to build support, raising little money for their effort and getting only token help from national legalization groups.

Neither group has submitted the required signatures to get their proposals on the ballot.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second held by the interim legislative panel, which has heard presentations from law enforcement, regulators and proponents of the proposed ballot measures.

Bismarck Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin, who heads the panel, said he expected at least one more meeting, after which a report would be crafted and presented to the Legislature when it convenes next year.

Eleven states already have legalized recreational marijuana use and it’s under consideration in several more.