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Sertoma Park the setting to push for marijuana initiative

Legalization party

JD Houle signals a thumbs up after two Bismarck Police officers politely asked him to lower the volume of the music at the gathering for the 420 legalization of medical and recreational marijuana petition signing party at Sertoma Park in Bismarck on Wednesday.

Super-sized squirt guns, live music and a vendor selling tie-dye T-shirts set the backdrop Wednesday at Sertoma Park in Bismarck as backers of universal use of marijuana pushed for signatures to put an initiative on a November state ballot.

JD Houle organized the 420 event for the legalization of recreational use of marijuana and hemp at Sertoma Park's Community building.

April 20 is known as a national pot holiday, according to Houle, who said he felt it a fitting time to seek the 13,476 signatures needed to submit the petition to the Secretary of State by the July 11 deadline. He and chair of the Legalize ND drive, Eric Olson, of Fargo, aim to secure 20,000 signatures for the cause. Prior to Wednesday's event, the group had a count of 800 signatures statewide.

Houle said the initiative is for the recreational and medicinal purposes of marijuana and hemp, separate from the proposed Compassionate Care Act, focused on medical uses of marijuana only.

"This event will affect thousands and millions of people's lives. It's medicinal. It helps with seizures, cancer, glaucoma, fybromyalgia and pain issues. I am leaning more toward recreational to make it legal for everybody. It frees up hemp. When we legalize hemp, we can free up hemp for fuel so we can get off fossil fuel," Houle said. "It burns more efficiently and is easier to process."

He reasoned that marijuana and hemp-based items do not kill people, but alcohol and tobacco do kill and are legal.

Houle, a self-described vegeterian and non-drinker, wanted to publicize the event "because some people are scared to come out."

As of 5:30 p.m., Houle had gathered more than 200 signatures for his cause and 290 people, ranging in age from their early 20s to seniors in their 70s, attended the event.

When not collecting signatures, Houle works at a local fast-food restaurant and likes the moniker "JD the drive-thru guy." He said similar events were being held in Minot, Fargo and Valley City.

When asked, he assured no marijuana had been smoked nor cannabis products ingested at park facilities that day.

Olson said he is confident the initiative will make the state ballot in November. Signatures from a similar initiative were rejected by the Secretary of State's office because it listed an outdated Century Code.

A separate petition

According to Mary Rennich, of Bismarck, who is involved with the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act for Medical Cannabis, about 3,500 signatures have been collected statewide for that cause and possibly 6,000 more are pending.

"We're hoping for 18,000 signatures by July 11," said Rennich.

She said the group will collect signatures at Sertoma Park April 30 at Shelter No. 6 when the MS Walk participants come through as well as when a separate Parkinson's Walk is held there. 

(Reach LeAnn Eckroth at 701-250-8264 or leann.eckroth@bismarcktribune.com)

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