North Dakota may become the 10th state in America to legalize cannabis for adult use, following approval of enough signatures to get a ballot measure before the voters in November.
The North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on Aug. 13 announced that activists have submitted more than enough signatures to qualify a cannabis legalization initiative for the November ballot. Secretary of State Al Jaeger said organizers turned in 14,637 valid signatures last month — which was 1,200 more than they needed.
No Limits on Legal Cannabis Quantity
Organized by grassroots group Legalize North Dakota, the measure would legalize “non-violent marijuana-related activity” for those over the age of 21. This includes the possession, use and sale of cannabis, as well as possession of “marijuana paraphernalia.”
The language includes no limits on quantities that may be possessed or cultivated. Those under 21 in possession of cannabis or those selling it to minors would be treated the same as if it were alcohol. The measure would also create a process for expunging records of those previously convicted of a crime legalized by the initiative, as the Grand Forks Herald reports.
One leading organizer of the effort is David Owen, a University of North Dakota student who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature as a Libertarian in 2016 — and actually says he has never used cannabis. He told the Grand Forks Herald he was moved by the plight of those incarcerated or ineligible for student loans as a result of using a substance he considers less harmful than alcohol.
“Because of a plant… they are now barred for the rest of their life from ever really achieving what they could be,” he said. “And that is the real crime of the war on drugs.”
Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), stated in a press release: “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.”
Altieri struck an optimistic note, in an implicit reference to the seeming challenge of a legalization measure in a heartland red state.
“Marijuana legalization is no longer a regional or partisan issue,” he said. “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.”
Cannabis was the most commonly seized illegal substance by North Dakota law enforcement last year, according to statistics from the state Attorney General’s office.
The North Dakota Sheriff’s & Deputies Association has already passed a resolution opposing legalization of recreational cannabis. According to the Grand Forks Herald, Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, does support decriminalization at the federal level. However, putting his support behind legalization in his own state may prove to be more difficult.
Another Red State Going Green?
North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana initiative, Measure 5, in November 2016. However, state legislators rewrote the law last April, severely restricting it. One change was especially critical in an expansive but sparsely populated state: lawmakers eliminated the option of home cultivation for those living 40 miles or more from a dispensary. And no dispensaries are yet operating. The state Department of Health is only now working to license dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
Industrial hemp cultivation was made legal by North Dakota lawmakers in 2015 — one year after the federal Farm Bill allowed limited hemp farming. Farm Flavor journal reports that over 3,000 acres are now under hemp cultivation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux, who won national fame for their fight against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in 2016, are studying a proposal for growing hemp on their reservation.
North Dakota voted for Donald Trump by a daunting 63 percent in 2016. It now joins Michigan in facing a vote on cannabis adult-use legalization this fall, with Missouri and Utah voting on medical marijuana measures.
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