North Dakota Voters Reject Adult-Use Cannabis
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North Dakota Voters Reject Adult-Use Cannabis

Cannabis legalization takes a back seat as Measure 2 is defeated.

November 8, 2022

Measure 2 398 of 398 precincts reported
No130,87354.95%
Yes107,29945.05%
Total Votes238,172 

Source: results.sos.nd.gov LAST UPDATED: 8:07 A.M. Central Time, Nov. 9 

North Dakota voters rejected Measure 2, the state's 2022 adult-use cannabis legalization initiative, by a roughly 55%-to-45% margin, with 374 of 398 precincts fully reporting, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office.

The 2022 ballot proposal would have legalized the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 4 grams of concentrate and up to 500 milligrams of THC in an infused product, as well as the personal cultivation of up to three cannabis plants at private residences. 

The initiative also aimed to establish a licensed industry for cultivation, processing, retail and testing laboratories, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services, or another department or agency designated by the state Legislature, to establish a licensed program . Under the measure, seven cultivation facilities and 18 retailers would have been licensed. 

July poll from The Dickinson Press surveying southwest North Dakota readers found that 39% of respondents said they supported the measure, 43% were opposed and 18% were apathetic. Sentiments in the area may have changed over four years, the newspaper suggests; a similar poll the paper conducted in 2018 saw southwestern North Dakotans supported that year’s adult-use legalization measure 60% to 40%. That 2018 poll result reflected the inverse of the ultimate statewide vote outcome, a 59%-to-41% defeat, for adult-use legalization that year.

The week prior to Election Day 2022, Cannabis Business Times spoke with David Owen, chairperson of New Approach North Dakota, the group behind Measure 2.

Owen said there are “three big problems with the medical program” in North Dakota. First, Veterans Affairs doctors are not allowed to recommend cannabis to military veterans. Second, many doctors in the state are not issuing cannabis recommendations, in general.

“And number three, you always have the health insurance problem,” Owen said. “Medical marijuana is not recognized as a medicine for the purposes of health insurance. And in some cases, using medical marijuana can cause [patients] to lose that health insurance. So, in a recreational system, you don't have to fight a system that is designed to stop you from getting access to it. You don't have to fight with the doctors …. You don't have to worry about the health insurance side of things. And you don't have to worry so much about the affordability, because in a legal market, there's more supply, and when there's more supply, prices do fall.”

In a report submitted to North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger, the North Dakota Legislative Council shared figures from various state agencies and local governments estimates of the measure’s fiscal impact. The report states that a fiscal note prepared by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services “identifies, for the remainder of the 2021-23 biennium through the 2025-27 biennium, total estimated revenues of $3,145,000 and total estimated expenditures of $4,985,632.”

Owen pointed out that The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun and The Dickinson Press all endorsed Measure 2. Each publication published the same letter bylined by the editorial board of Forum Communications Co., the publisher of those news outlets.

However, Measure 2 has been the subject of prohibitionist attacks. For example, retired Bismarck, N.D., Chief of Police Dan Donlin wrote in a paid political letter to The Dickinson Press that “the idea that minors under 21 won’t get their hands on legal marijuana is ludicrous. Just like cigarettes, kids will get it without much trouble.”

And, per The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Burleigh County, N.D., Sheriff Kelly Leben said: “When you look at other states with legal recreational marijuana it’s easy to see the detrimental impacts it has caused.”

Diane Goldstein, a retired lieutenant of California’s Redondo Beach Police Department who now works with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and Mark Friese, a Fargo, N.D.-based defense attorney, a former Bismarck, N.D., police officer and treasurer of New Approach North Dakota, spoke about the legalization effort on The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead podcast “Plain Talk With Rob Port.”

Goldstein legalization would help mitigate issues with public safety arising from the illicit market, according to The Forum. She also said the strong illicit market in California, raised by Leben, is due to delayed regulations between medical cannabis Proposition 215 and adult-use cannabis Proposition 64, taxes and government moratoriums.

Goldstein outlined her opposition to active law enforcement personnel lobbying against or for cannabis. She said of prohibitionist claims by law enforcement: “The problem … continues … that there is this ideological fear by law enforcement, instead of embracing what their constituents want.”

Addressing a question from Port about DUIs, Friese said a “Cato Institute study found that the average traffic fatality rate in states that have legalized adult-use cannabis is 10% lower than in the U.S.”

An analysis of the potential fiscal impacts of Measure 2—had it passed—was submitted to North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger in September. The North Dakota Legislative Council shared figures from various state agencies and local governments estimates of the measure’s fiscal impact. The report states that a fiscal note prepared by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services “identifies, for the remainder of the 2021-23 biennium through the 2025-27 biennium, total estimated revenues of $3,145,000 and total estimated expenditures of $4,985,632.”

Travis Copenhaver, a partner at law firm Vicente Sederberg, said of Measure 2 in a statement: “It’s unfortunate that North Dakotans will not have access to recreational cannabis for a little while longer. However, the success that New Approach North Dakota had in collecting signatures shows that there is significant support for recreational cannabis in the state. We look forward to a day when the shadow of the War on Drugs lifts over North Dakota.”

Jeffrey M. Zucker, vice chair of the Marijuana Policy Project Board of Directors and president of business strategy firm Green Lion Partners, said in a separate statement: “It is disappointing that North Dakota has failed to legalize adult-use cannabis this election season. Despite this setback, cannabis activists have made massive progress in changing the public opinion of adult-use cannabis over the past months. I genuinely believe their hard work will pay off in future election cycles.”

A 2019 Pew Research study found that two-thirds of Americans support cannabis legalization.

Read more about Measure 2 and North Dakota's medical program here.