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Why the Best Marijuana Legalization Law Yet is in North Dakota

The Best Legal Pot Law is in North Dakota
Photo Taylor Kent for Cannabis Now


Why the Best Marijuana Legalization Law Yet is in North Dakota

Unlike Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, and everyone else to come before, Measure 3 in conservative North Dakota is the most progressive marijuana legalization proposal yet.

Common critiques of marijuana legalization follow a few simple lines of logic. One is that allowing adults 21 and over to possess marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation isn’t legalization at all — at least not really.

If cannabis were truly legal in places like Canada, Colorado, Washington, California, and the other states where adults enjoy the legal right to purchase marijuana in a state-licensed retail storefront, this argument goes, there would be no limits on how much cannabis an adult could purchase, possess, or cultivate. There would be no taxes or regulations. There would just be us and the weed.

This is as much a critique of capitalism or government in general as it is cannabis policy — and probably belongs in the same conversations as overthrowing the government or replacing the market economy (that is: they are massive undertakings that may be beyond the ken of drug-policy reform). At the same time, few would argue that most states’ medical or recreational legalization measures are anywhere close to perfect; they are probably better seen as “good starts,” which is not to say they do not have value.

But so far, only one state is edging close to achieving the libertarian’s nirvana described above — and it’s North Dakota, which has since 2016 been the unexpected and welcome surprise of the marijuana-reform movement. North Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana on Election Night 2016 by a wide margin, at the same time as fellow Trump-supporting red states Arkansas and Florida

And if voters in that state approve Measure 3 on Election Day next month, conservative North Dakota could have some of the most liberal marijuana laws in the country. In stark contrast to more progressive states where marijuana “legalization” stops at 1 or 2 ounces, adults would be able to possess marijuana with no possession limits.

If passed — and according to current polling from NORML, one of the ballot measure’s few sponsors, it has a good chance of passing — Measure 3 would also expunge past convictions for marijuana crimes. Compare that to the process in other blue states like California and Washington, where marijuana “offenders” have had to hire lawyers to file petitions to get their records cleared. And not every state that’s legalized marijuana has gone this far. Massachusetts hasn’t (and neither have dispensaries opened up for business, nearly two years after the state legalized marijuana).

Why is cannabis such an easy sell in such a conservative area? While it’s been true for a while that legalization is a bipartisan issue, Great Plains states like North Dakota also tend to skew towards a small-government libertarianism that tracks nicely with drug policy reform.

This is not to say that the state is perfect, or will implement legalization perfectly if it passes — or that it will pass at all. Patients in Arkansas and North Dakota are still waiting for medical-marijuana dispensaries to open, and patients in Florida have seen fit to file several lawsuits against the state to overturn what they perceive (probably correctly) as overly restrictive laws designed to limit cannabis access as much as possible while still allowing it in some form.

As North Dakota state Rep. Rick Becker told reporters, it’s possible that the Legislature could intervene following Measure 3’s passage and change it.

Either way, the mere fact that red-state voters had no issue with allowing adults to possess in theory entire truckloads worth of cannabis is significant — and maybe the clearest sign yet that any lingering prohibition-era qualms over cannabis per se are finally dissipating.

TELL US, do you think there should be no limits on how much cannabis a person can purchase, possess and cultivate?



  1. Cedric Silvester

    November 1, 2018 at 12:30 am

    As a Canadian, I’d like to point out the regulations around cannabis sales are not much different to any potentially dangerous(1) subject. Take gasoline… there are a number of rules I must follow to handle gasoline… certified containers, fill only on with container firmly on ground, no smoking within XX meters of the refilling operation, etc. Cannabis is similarly regulated.

    Legal for adults, 18 or 19 as defined by the province, and 100% aligned with the legal age for alcohol (& perhaps tobacco). Big time illegal to distribute to those under age. Big time illegal to drive while impaired by cannabis.

    30 grams in public possession. No prescribed limit on total possession. Can pass another adult 30 grams, but I suspect no money can exchange. Cannabis in public must be in sealed, opaque, odour-proof containers, like the ones the stores or online retailers sell. Tight rules. A guy in Ontario already got busted for “open cannabis in a motor vehicle”; cop spotted him with a 1/4oz or so in a clear baggie sitting on the drivers seat. So consider if like an open container… leave it in the stapled closed opaque bag it was sold in, leave in backseat or trunk.

    Not sure how it’s going to play out what someone has an un-smoked pre-roll in his pocket. I’ll be carrying mine in the opaque, semi-child-proof tube my first legal purchase came in. There will have to be charges, appeals, reversals and re-appeals to figure all this out.

    All very messy right now. Tons of questions. We in Ontario can grow 4 plants, but will there be a size limit? Can I start 10 seeds, grow them to determine sex, select the best 4, and not be worried that those 10 are legal. Can I have those 10 coming up while the current crop is flowering? Will seeds need to come from licensed sources, will I need to maintain seed to bad records like the licensed producers & distributors do?

    We just switched on a very large, production, distribution, retail, online, market of a controversial product, one with strict regulations, across a large country. There are hiccups. I’m pleased it’s gone as well as it has.

    (1) no, I do not think cannabis is a dangerous substance; probably one of the safest recreational drugs we know of. But I am willing to let the rules be super tight at first. I doubt we could have got here if the Liberals couldn’t satisfy all the “what about the children” pearl-clutchers. I expect we’ll see a loosening of these laws in the mid-term, 5-10 year horizon, as people realize how few problems cannabis legalization caused.

  2. Rob

    October 28, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    I think common sense should apply here. It all depends upon the variables…for example…why have dispensaries at all if anyone can grow or possess as much as they want? Obviously, there would then have to be laws stipulating that only state
    regulated dispensaries can sell it…if not, you’ll have an avalanche of private growers competing with each other to cash in…and then there’s the issue of
    monitoring/testing/product quality which the state could regulate but individuals couldn’t…plus…if anyone can grow it in any quantity why would one buy from a dispensary? Of course, it boils down to time and money…cost to grow your own vs cost to purchase. If there are going to be dispensaries…and state regulation of quality…well, that costs money…either taxes pay for it through income tax etc. or the product itself is taxed…the money has to come from somewhere, right? And ND is a state that’s sparsely populated…maybe the homegrowers will pop up in the more remote areas where dispensaries couldn’t possibly make a profit…unless they’re state subsidized…the money issue again…
    Look, I’m just thinking off the top of my head…ND is a great state, it’s people great people…whether red, blue or otherwise. They’ve a right to have a say…do it how THEY want to do it…but, to my mind…the priority has to be for medicinal patients AND de criminalization…after that it’s try this and/or that…but, I have faith in all Americans…ND will figure it out. We will be watching. Maybe they can teach the stragglers how to do it right. It won’t happen overnight but, let’s hope it happens.
    Best of luck ND. We are supportive.

  3. Bob

    October 28, 2018 at 5:29 am

    >>>and probably belongs in the same conversations as overthrowing the government or replacing the market economy

    this is so wrong! Removing Prohibition laws, punitive levels of taxation, nuisance and harassment regulations – these things will ALLOW a market ecomony to occur, not “replace” one.

    the author needs to move his mind from the slave-state induced by decades of public schooling and mass-media and see the world for what it really is! Growing and using herbs and plants is the natural way of the world, not some affront to capitalism and civilized society.

    Libertarians want a capitalist society, governed by the laws of supply and demand. Libertarians don’t want “no government” or to overthrow the government, we want the smallest possible government in a civilized society.

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