BISMARCK – The differences between two attorneys – one fighting to retain his Attorney General’s seat and the other striving to take it – couldn’t be starker.
Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican, is the longest-serving Attorney General in North Dakota’s history. Tall, peppery-brown haired, he’s a difficult official to reach.
His rival, David Thompson, is gaining political ground online and through a grassroots campaign. Balding and stocky, a juggernaut for personal injury cases dealing much of the time with asbestos and mesothelioma issues, Thompson is a registered Democrat, with support on both sides of the political aisle.
Thompson has criticized his opponent heavily during the past months, linking Stenehjem to former Governor Jack Dalrymple and a 2011 bribery case that was stymied by judges and later crippled by the state legislature.
Thompson has also backed Bismarck attorney Tom Dickson in a writ of mandamus against Stenehjem alleging him enjoining the state to a Texas federal lawsuit to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional is illegal. Thompson has also thrown other allegations based on the appearance of corruption, such as Stenehjem’s involvement with and financial backing from the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA.
So far, Stenehjem has yet to throw a punch back. His office is referring all questions related to the federal lawsuit to Texas, and the North Dakota Republican Party is not returning requests for information.
Thompson landed another body shot early Tuesday morning saying that Stenehjem is the mastermind behind denying the will of the people in regards to Measure 5, the medical marijuana measure passed overwhelmingly in 2016 General Election. Thompson alleges that Stenehjem, who was adamantly opposed to the measure, helped orchestrate the measure’s legislative overhaul that restricted the law into a shadow of what was originally proposed. After nearly two years, the medical marijuana program is still not fully operational in North Dakota.
According to the latest North Dakota Department of Health status updates, the agency has been actively working on instituting the program for 18 months and expects to have shelves stocked by the beginning of 2019, according to Jason Wahl, director of the Department of Health Division of Medical Marijuana. Currently, the state has two growers, or manufacturing facilities, and eight dispensaries all located within a 50-mile radius of major cities. So far, more than 200 people have applied for a medical marijuana identification card.
“North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who had strongly opposed 2016 Measure 5 after having unsuccessfully campaigned for that initiated measure to fail, advocated successfully for the immediate repeal of Measure 5 and the Attorney General then advised the legislature as it enacted 2017 Senate Bill 2344 into a far more restrictive medical marijuana law,” Thompson said.
“To be clear, I strongly support making medical marijuana widely available, just as 64 percent of North Dakota’s voters mandated two years ago, while Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has always opposed and worked to delay and restrict the availability of medical marijuana. As for Measure 3, North Dakota voters are intelligent, and on Measure 3, they are certainly aware of what they are voting for, and quite unlike Stenehjem, I will respect the will of the voters of this state.”
The new law adds 95 separate sections of law that must be complied with in connection to medical marijuana, according to the North Dakota Century Code.
“Even though North Dakotans approved the use of medical marijuana in this state by a margin of 63.79 percent to 36.21 percent in the 2016 General Election, medical marijuana is still not available today, and with a burdensome mountain of laws in the form of statutes and administrative regulations to be addressed by those seeking treatment with medical marijuana, it is evident that comparatively few North Dakotans will even be able to obtain state certification to be able to legally possess and use medical marijuana,” Thompson said.
This year, with Measure 3 related to legalizing recreational marijuana, Stenehjem is leading opposition once again.
“Much of the rhetoric of the Measure 3 opposition group trots out the time-worn assertion that ‘marijuana is a gateway drug,’ and that marijuana use leads to ‘harder drugs,’” Thompson said. “In fact, the weight of the findings found in peer-reviewed scientific literature is that overwhelmingly, marijuana is not a ‘gateway drug,’ and that actual ‘gateway drug’ is not marijuana, but rather one of the most damaging and socially accepted drugs in the world – alcohol.”
With Bismarck Police cracking down on the use of CBD oil, a hemp based pain reliever among other uses, the state has also significantly increased arrests for marijuana violations. According to the North Dakota Attorney General’s 2016 Comprehensive Status and Trends Report, marijuana arrests have jumped from 2,090 in 2010 to 3,519 in 2015.
Heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine drug violations have also increased. In 2010, the state reported four heroin cases while in 2015 reported 177 cases. Cocaine violations totaled 35 in 2010, and 100 in 2015, while the state had 246 methamphetamine violations in 2010 with 1,633 in 2015.
If the trend continues in 2016 through 2018 -- the reports are not available yet -- then the statistics can only mean one thing: “There obviously is a misplaced and out-of-proportion preoccupation by Stenehjem with marijuana on the part of Stenehjem and North Dakota law enforcement agencies with marijuana interdiction – diverting law enforcement resources from methamphetamine and heroin drug enforcement,” Thompson said.
“Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s obsession with the prosecution of North Dakotans for marijuana-based offenses obviously taking valuable law enforcement resources away from the far more important focus on the current escalating tragedy of this state’s opioid/heroin epidemic, and the continuing methamphetamine menace. This is just bad law enforcement and wrong priorities on the part of Wayne Stenehjem.”
Thompson was admitted to the North Dakota Bar in 1984, graduating two years earlier from the University of North Dakota of Law in Grand Forks, where he later set up practice, David C. Thompson Law Office.
As of May 2018, 29 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. A total of nine states and the nation’s capital city have legalized recreational marijuana. States that have legalized cannabis have experienced skyrocketing sales revenues with California leading the nation at $2.75 billion. Alaska, with a population less than one million, had a reported $40 million in cannabis sales.
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