Legalize ND Refocuses Cannabis Legalization Efforts on North Dakota’s 2022 Ballot: Legalization Watch

Legalize ND Refocuses Cannabis Legalization Efforts on North Dakota’s 2022 Ballot: Legalization Watch

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for the group to collect the required number of signatures ahead of a July 6 deadline to qualify its adult-use legalization initiative for the 2020 ballot.

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June 18, 2020

After North Dakota voters struck down Legalize ND’s adult-use cannabis legalization measure in 2018, the group came back with what campaign chairman David Owen calls a “compromise bill” that he originally hoped to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

“With our last bill, which was a no-compromises, … aggressive legalization bill, … we got 41% [of the vote],” Owen told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “With what we’re calling the compromise bill, … we address some of the concerns for people on the fence.”

The new version of the ballot measure, which Legalize ND released last summer, would legalize the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Dispensaries would be licensed to sell adult-use products, but home grow is prohibited under the initiative. The measure levies a 10% excise tax on adult-use sales, and a three-member Marijuana Control Commission would be established to oversee the industry.

“It was just a pretty broad, run-of-the-mill, standard legalization bill, not really pushing the envelope,” Owen said. “The push-the-envelope version—we saw how that went.”

To get the initiative before voters this fall, Legalize ND had to collect roughly 13,500 valid signatures by July 6. With only about 5,500 valid signatures in hand and the coronavirus crisis putting pressure on the campaign’s efforts, the group announced in early April that it would refocus its efforts on the 2022 ballot, which allows them to petition until December.

“That’s looking possible,” Owen says.

The key, he adds, will be winning over the state’s Republican majority, which might be possible with some of the compromises included in the revised version of the initiative.

For example, while home grow is important to Legalize ND, Owen recognized the need to remove those provisions from the measure after voters struck down the 2018 proposal, which included unlimited home grow.

“There are political realities,” he said. “You have to compromise. You don’t compromise on your first ask. On your first ask, you ask for everything you want and then you work backwards from there. But what we found was that nearly a two-thirds majority of North Dakotans are opposed to home grow, just lock, stock and barrel. I get it, we all want the best possible bill, but at a certain point, the key word there is possible, and possible doesn’t mean I can write it down. Possible means I can sell it.”

Owen estimates that Legalize ND won over about a third of the state’s Republican base in 2018, although legalization needs the backing of at least half of Republicans to get it across the finish line.

Another challenge, he added, is that Legalize ND is largely a grassroots effort with little to no national funding behind it.

“There are national dollars coming in to fight us,” Owen said. “We need help. I know people think it’s a conservative state, but at the end of the day, you’re never going to get national reform until you win conservative states."