With 14,637 qualified signatures backing the petition, North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger will place an adult-use cannabis legalization measure on the November ballot.
David Owen, chairman of Legalize ND, tells Cannabis Business Times that this is the "first comprehensive marijuana reform in the whole country for full rec.” He says that the organizing principles behind this measure were created out of frustration with the handling of North Dakota’s medical marijuana law. With other states implementing their own adult-use laws, Owen says the group also found ways of simplifying their approach.
“We didn't want to piecemeal it,” he says. “We didn't want to say, 'We'll deal with criminal justice later.' We wanted to seal the records now, we wanted to make sure that the growing was easy and made sense. We didn't want to create any artificial monopoly. We wanted to be treated as a respectable, normal business.
“For example, they don't say you that you can only have the grocery stores in the city of Grand Forks. If you want to open a grocery store, you can open a grocery store.”
After a failed signature-gathering attempt a few years ago—and amid ongoing legislative debates over how to implement the voter-approved medical marijuana law—Owen says he and activists from around the state met in Bismarck in March 2017. There, they laid out their goals for what the next adult-use petition should look like; they took into consideration licensing protocols from other states and criminal justice reform.
“In March of '17, it became very clear that the legislature was either unwilling to unable to enact the medical law,” Owen says, reflecting on the early days of this adult-use campaign.
A central tenet was simplicity—giving lawmakers at the state and local levels a clear path to implementation.
“This model is 100-percent plug-and-play,” Owen says. “The cities, if they want to, can put zoning regs on it. But this is workable, implementable and executable from day one. That's the biggest strength of this bill, in my opinion. It's a true free-market, laissez-faire bill.”
State legislators will be able to amend portions of the law, if they can muster a majority vote (or a two-thirds super-majority vote for some tax-related portions).
Owen says the petition also approaches a major criminal justice underpinning of cannabis reform in a way that no other legalization bill has done. Rather than leaning on the state legislature for cannabis conviction expungement policies, Legalize ND’s bill comes complete with a directive to seal all past records of cannabis-related crimes—with a few caveats.
“All they're going to have to do is search their database for all the people arrested with marijuana crimes—and if they weren't violent and if they weren't dealing to kids and they're not in prison, their record gets sealed,” Owen says. “If they're in prison, 30 days after they leave their record gets sealed. It's going to allow everyone to move on with their lives, because it should have never been illegal in the first place.”
Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock