This November, North Dakotans will vote on recreational marijuana. According to the Secretary of State’s office, it’s possible thanks to an initiative put together by activists, which collected 14,637 signatures, about 1,200 more than required to qualify as a ballot measure. If passed, the ballot would permit adults over 21 to use and grow marijuana.
Unlike many other states that have approved recreational marijuana, the North Dakota legalization measure would not set limits on how much cannabis residents can possess or cultivate. Instead, the ballot measure would focus solely on allowing a system for legal marijuana production and sales, and “non-violent marijuana-related activity,” according to the Grand Forks Herald.
“We applaud the hard work and dedication from the campaign and countless volunteers on the ground in North Dakota who went door to door and out into their communities to gather the signatures required to put this on the ballot in November,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Forbes.” Marijuana legalization is no longer a regional or partisan issue. Well over 60 [percent] of all Americans support ending our nation’s failed prohibition and I expect North Dakota voters to send shockwaves across the country this fall when they join the growing contingent of states who have chosen the sensible path of legalization and regulation over prohibition and incarceration.”
The hope is that this new recreational measure will go far better than North Dakota’s current medical marijuana market. Though the state passed its medical marijuana initiative two years ago, the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act has still yet to be available to patients. The problem is that it has been bogged down in details and delays involving the Legislature. In fact, officials are still licensing dispensaries and growing facilities more than 21 months in.
According to Dave Owen, a University of North Dakota student and the chairperson behind both the marijuana initiatives in the state, they’ve learned a lot from medical marijuana in 2016 and have decided to simplify the latest ballot initiative. Owen told the Bismarck Tribune that he wrote a “very simple” measure that is “implementable on day one” and uses existing business licensure.
“This (measure) is basically a referendum,” Owen wrote. “Do you want recreational marijuana? Yes or no.”
However, though recreational marijuana has made it to the ballot for November, that doesn’t mean everyone is excited. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told reporters that marijuana legalization would not make the state better off and that it could lead to increasing crime, particularly driving under the influence. But Owen doesn’t agree.
Marijuana accounted for about half of drug arrests in North Dakota last year, and Owen believes that if marijuana is legalized, law enforcement will have more time to investigate other crimes. At the same time, he hopes that by pushing for legalization it will open the door for the state to expunge marijuana-related criminal records.
“Because of a plant … they are now barred for the rest of their life from ever really achieving what they could be,” Owen told The Hill. “And that is the real crime of the war on drugs.”
Recreational marijuana is currently legal in nine states and Washington D.C. This November, North Dakota will join Michigan as, hopefully, the tenth and eleventh states to legalize.