State officials in North Dakota announced on Monday that an initiative to legalize cannabis for adults has qualified for the ballot and will appear before voters in the November general election. New Approach North Dakota, the group spearheading the recreational marijuana ballot measure, submitted 26,048 petition signatures in July. On Tuesday, the office of Secretary of State Al Jaeger verified 23,368 signatures as coming from registered voters, far exceeding the 15,582 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.
If passed by voters in this year’s general election, the ballot measure would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and small amounts of cannabis concentrates by adults 21 and older. The initiative also establishes a regulatory framework to govern commercial cannabis production and sales, which would be administered by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services or another agency designated by lawmakers.
Regulators would be given until October 1, 2023 to draft regulations governing cannabis labeling, packaging, testing standards and advertising as well as security for marijuana facilities. The initiative limits the industry to seven production facilities and 18 cannabis retailers, with caps on the number of licenses held by any one entity.
Initiative Modeled After House Bill
Supporters of the initiative effort say the proposal was written largely following recreational cannabis legalization legislation that was passed by the North Dakota House of Representatives but failed to gain the approval of the state Senate.
“There is no public safety benefit from arresting adults for small amounts of marijuana,” Mark Friese, an attorney and former police officer who serves who is the treasurer of New Approach North Dakota, said in a statement. “It is a waste of taxpayer resources and a distraction from serious public safety concerns. Cannabis causes far less harm than alcohol. Many people find therapeutic benefits from it. The government shouldn’t be in the business of punishing adults who use cannabis responsibly.”
The news that the cannabis legalization initiative has qualified for the November election drew praise from activists including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“North Dakota has long had one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation, despite having among the lowest reported marijuana use of any state,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a statement from the cannabis advocacy group. “Legalization will not only bring justice to thousands of North Dakotans, but it will also provide a new, booming industry that will help local businesses and the countless family farms in the state. We expect that come November, North Dakotans are going to send a loud and clear message that they reject the failed policy of prohibition and that they want to take a new and more sensible approach forward by legalizing and regulating marijuana.”
“This measure will ensure that North Dakotans have safe and regulated access to cannabis products, thereby creating jobs, bolstering the agricultural community, and reprioritizing law enforcement’s priorities away from marijuana arrests to focus on violent crime,” added NORML state policies Manager Jax James.
Brian Vicente, founding partner at the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, noted that passage of the initiative would likely have political ramifications for the state’s lawmakers and could impact national cannabis reform efforts.
“North Dakota qualifying legalization for the November ballot is a big step towards national legalization,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “Not only will this vote allow patients who don’t qualify under the current medical law to have safe access, but it will also force a robust discussion on adult-use marijuana policy in a traditionally conservative state.”
“Importantly, if this vote passes, the state’s Republican senators will have a decision to make in D.C.— do they support the will of their state’s voters, or do they continue supporting federal laws that criminalize cannabis consumers in their state?” he added. “North Dakota is the sixth state slated to vote on legalization this November, which is sure to make fun election night viewing.”
In 2016, North Dakota voters approved a ballot measure legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis but voted down a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana.