Activists in North Dakota took a big step this week toward getting a cannabis legalization measure before the state’s voters in November.
The group known as New Approach North Dakota said that it submitted boxes’ worth of signatures on Monday to the secretary of state’s office in the capital city of Bismarck in an effort to get the measure on this year’s ballot.
According to local television station KFYR, organizers for the group “submitted a petition with more than 25,000 signatures,” which was “over 10,000 more than they need to place the issue on the ballot in November.”
The secretary of state’s office now has until August 15 “to verify the signatures and determine whether the measure will be placed on the ballot,” according to the station.
Should the measure qualify for the ballot, it could serve as another test case for how much attitudes have shifted on the issue, even in the most conservative corners of the United States.
It will also reveal how much public opinion has changed in North Dakota since 2018, when voters in the state rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational cannabis.
“In a four-year period, call it, we’ve gone from being surrounded by non-legal states, to everything around us being legal. And that just shows the entire culture and attitude, not just in North Dakota, but in the Midwest as a whole, is shifting on this,” said David Owen, campaign manager for New Approach North Dakota, as quoted by KFYR.
If the measure qualifies for the ballot and wins approval from voters, individuals in North Dakota “who are 21 and older will no longer be punished for using marijuana in the privacy of their home,” according to a summary of the measure, which would permit “adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, up to four grams of cannabis concentrate, and up to 500 milligrams of cannabis in an infused product,” and to “cultivate up to three cannabis plants in a secure, enclosed location on their property.”
The new law would also establish “a system of registered dispensaries, manufacturers, and testing laboratories,” with each product “analyzed to determine potency and screened for unsafe contaminants,” and “tracked, traced, and accurately labeled in an inventory system from seed to sale.”
The proposal’s title reads: “This initiated measure would create a new chapter of the North Dakota Century Code. It would allow for the production, processing, and sale of cannabis and the possession and use of various forms of cannabis by individuals who are 21 years of age and older, within limitations as to location; direct a state entity to regulate and register adult-use cannabis production businesses, dispensaries, and their agents; permit an individual to possess a limited amount of cannabis product; provide protections, limitations, penalties, and employer rights relating to use of cannabis products; and provide that fees are to be appropriated for administration of the chapter.”
Organizers in North Dakota may have been encouraged by what they’ve seen from their neighbors to the south.
A majority of voters in South Dakota approved an amendment legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults in the 2020 election, only to see the law unravel under a legal challenge spearheaded by the state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
But polls have shown that voters in South Dakota remain supportive of legalization (while disapproving of Noem’s handling of the issue), and activists there are aiming to put another proposal on this year’s ballot.
Following the vote in South Dakota, some Republican lawmakers in North Dakota introduced bills to legalize pot in the state, which was described as an effort to “head off citizen-initiated efforts to legalize marijuana through the constitution, after South Dakota voters did just that last year.”