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David Owen

David Owen is again leading the group Legalize ND that has decided to make another attempt to legalize marijuana in the 2020 election through another ballot measure.

It’s likely North Dakota voters will get an opportunity to vote on some form of marijuana legalization in the November 2020 election. The shape of any ballot measure will be decided over the next few months.

David Owen, chairman of Legalize ND, which spearheaded the 2018 failed measure, held a recent organizational meeting. Owen said whether the Legislature approves a marijuana decriminalization bill will help determine how a ballot measure is written. An amendment recently passed by the Senate 37-10 seeks decriminalization for possession of under a half-ounce of marijuana and for marijuana paraphernalia, while calling for an interim study on marijuana laws in the state. Owen favors decriminalization for under an ounce and allowing people to grow a few of their own plants for medical or recreational use.

The Tribune Editorial Board has opposed full legalization of marijuana. At the same time, the Tribune has favored some decriminalization of marijuana such as eliminating jail sentences for small amounts of marijuana. The Tribune isn’t ready to take a position on any proposed measure until Legalize ND writes it. The Tribune wouldn’t support the total legalization of the drug. The Legislature will likely decide this month on the decriminalization effort.

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, has been spearheading decriminalization during the session. She doesn’t believe the Legislature will approve a bill any stronger than what’s before them. She’s targeting those who support eliminating penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana, but don’t favor decriminalization. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is among those who support some form of decriminalization. Legalize ND also is taking a more moderate approach.

The Senate has approved an amendment on decriminalization and the bill is expected to go to a House-Senate conference committee.

The proposed ballot measure could include possession limits, growing limits, taxes on sales, banning of edible gummies, packaging and licensing requirements, and any form of advertising of products wouldn’t be allowed. Owen said the ballot measure won’t seek to have the state expunge marijuana convictions from a person's record.

Legalize ND wants the public to provide answers to 37 questions about the ballot measure. They include issues like local control of selling operations, licensing fees, banning sales to persons under 21, establishing a marijuana tax, how many plants should be allowed and how much in possession. There also are questions on giving employers the right to enforce workplace rules concerning marijuana use, limiting market concentration to allow more competition among dispensaries, reducing penalties for persons under 21 caught possessing small amounts and allowing a person convicted of a more minor marijuana charge to petition for resentencing.

Those who want to answer the questions can go through the email at LegalizeND2020@gmail.com, on the Facebook page or the website that will be developed, Owen told the Forum News Service.

Whatever ballot measure Legalize ND develops, it must be well written. It wouldn’t serve anyone well to go through another process like the state did with the medical marijuana measure and is dealing with on the ethics commission (Measure 1). North Dakotans shouldn’t be voting again on a measure that will be rewritten by the Legislature. As much as possible they should vote on a final product.

A lot has to happen before the 2020 election. The Legislature must decide on decriminalization; the measure must be written and petitions circulated; and 13,452 signatures gathered to get it on the ballot. Then voters get to decide.

For Legalize ND to have a chance of passage they will need a well-written, more limited measure. The more comments the supporters receive the more likely the measure will be acceptable. It will be an interesting process to watch.

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