North Dakota activists cleared a procedural hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office on Thursday approved the formatting of the measure about two weeks after New Approach North Dakota advocates first filed it with support from the National Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). .
The proposal went through a legal review by the state attorney general’s office, which gave the initiative a title.
The initiative would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to three plants for personal use. Its provisions largely mirror the legalization bill passed by the House, which was ultimately defeated by the Senate.
Activists will need to collect 15,582 valid signatures from registered voters and submit them by July 11 in order to qualify for the ballot.
Here is a breakdown of the measures key provisions:
Adults 21 and older may purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, four grams of marijuana concentrate, and flower produced from up to three cultivated plants for personal use, as long as that cannabis is stored in the same place where the plant was grown.
The Department of Health and Human Services, or another body designated by the legislature, would be responsible for creating rules for the program and overseeing licensing for marijuana businesses.
Regulators would have until October 1, 2023 to develop rules for safety, advertising, labeling, packaging and testing standards.
The department could only authorize a maximum of seven cultivation facilities and 18 retailers. In an effort to mitigate the risk of the market being monopolized by large corporations, the initiative stipulates that no person or entity would be allowed to own more than one grow facility or four retail outlets.
There would be specific child custody protections for parents who use cannabis under state law.
Employers could continue to enforce the existing drug policy prohibiting the use of marijuana.
As for prior criminal records, the initiative would not provide a pathway for expungements, though campaigners say they intend to work with the legislature to enact separate legislation addressing the issue in 2023.
Local jurisdictions could prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area, and cannabis businesses would also be required to follow local zoning rules.
The state’s 5% sales tax would apply to cannabis products, but no additional tax would be imposed specifically on marijuana.
Manufacturers would pay a two-year registration fee of $110,000 and retailers would pay $90,000. These funds would support the ministry’s implementation and administration of the adult use program.
The initiative does not foresee any specific use of the funds collected from these fees beyond administration.
Public consumption would be prohibited.
A similar measure was introduced in the Legislative Assembly in 2021. Rep. Jason Dockter’s (R) bill passed the House, but was defeated by the entire Senate after leaving committee.
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Following that defeat, some senators devised a new plan to move the issue forward by returning it to voters in the 2022 ballot. The resolution passed through a key committee last year, but the Senate also blocked it.
There have been repeated attempts by activists to enact legalization in the Peace Garden State.
Advocates for the North Dakota Cannabis Caucus began collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for the 2022 ballot, but they didn’t collect enough by the January deadline.
Owen previously led an effort to place a legalization measure on the 2018 ballot that was rejected by voters. They filed another initiative for 2020, but complications in collecting signatures largely caused by the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.
Meanwhile, a bill to dramatically expand the decriminalization of marijuana in North Dakota passed the House last year but was later defeated in the Senate.
This legislation would have built on an early marijuana decriminalization law that was signed into law in 2019. Under current law, possession of half an ounce or less of cannabis is an offense punishable by a fine of up to up to $1,000, with no jail time. The rejected proposal would have made possession of up to one ounce a non-criminal offense punishable by a $50 fine.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (right) has previously said he’s not a ‘marijuana lover’, but he acknowledged cannabis legalization is imminent. While he would previously have been inclined to oppose a legalization bill, Pollert said voter endorsement of a legalization initiative in South Dakota made him reconsider, adding that the legislature should “consider carefully” the policy change.
Neighboring Montana also moved to legalize marijuana for adult use in the 2020 election, adding to regional pressure to get on board. Canada, which also borders the state, has a legal domestic cannabis market.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.
New Jersey Attorney General’s memo on police use of marijuana triggers pushback at launch of legal sales
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.