Efforts continue to get a measure on the ballot to legalize marijuana that can win voter approval. While the latest version by Legalize ND has been tailored to be more acceptable to the public, the Tribune editorial board still doesn’t believe it’s wise to legalize marijuana.
States which have legalized marijuana have encountered problems. There’s also a belief by many that marijuana serves as a gateway drug to stronger, more dangerous substances.
The Legalize ND sponsoring committee is in the process of reviewing the proposal and will be voting on it soon. The proposal will have to go to Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office to get approved for circulation. Supporters then will have to gather 13,452 valid signatures. Jaeger’s office will have to verify the signatures before the measure can go on the ballot.
The goal is to get the measure on the ballot by the fall of 2020.
Some of the restrictions being considered by supporters that make sense are a possession limit of 2 ounces; a ban on sales to anyone under 21; a ban on growing marijuana for personal use; existing penalties would continue for anyone driving while impaired by marijuana; cities could reject and limit retail stores in their communities; marijuana couldn’t be used in public places or where smoking tobacco isn’t allowed; and workplaces could still restrict the use of marijuana by employees.
These are sensible restrictions that give state and local government along with businesses some flexibility. The question voters must answer is whether these safeguards are enough to make legalized marijuana feasible in North Dakota. Voters didn’t like the 2018 measure, which they defeated 59% to 41%. The end result of the proposed 2020 measure and the 2018 effort would be the same: the public would be allowed to buy and consume marijuana.
While safeguards would be in place, minors would likely be able to get marijuana just like they get tobacco products. Enforcement could be difficult.
The state has been working to decriminalize possession of marijuana. A new law starting Aug. 1 changes the penalty for someone caught with less than a half-ounce of marijuana to an infraction with a maximum fine of $1,000. At present, marijuana possession is a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine.
The North Dakota Pardon Advisory Board has voted to create a shortened application process for people seeking a pardon for possessing or using marijuana.
Voters also approved the use of medical marijuana. However, it has taken a long time to launch the program after the Legislature tinkered with the measure and created state administration of the program. There has been a lot of disappointment with the delay in availability of medical marijuana.
There’s also an effort to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to end the prohibition of marijuana. If the 2018 measure couldn’t pass, it’s difficult seeing the amendment getting approval.
The Legalize ND measure should generate a lot of discussion. This needs to be a debate based on facts and the experiences of the 11 states that have legalized marijuana. Voters may be ready for a change, especially after watching the Legislature deal with medical marijuana. “Reefer Madness” arguments aren’t going to sway the public. Legalized marijuana will be decided by sensible campaigns.