On August 15, the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office announced that enough signatures had been received to put the North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the ballot. Come November, North Dakota voters will decide whether or not to legalize the adult recreational use of cannabis in their state.
If voters pass the New Approach North Dakota's sponsored ballot measure, individuals over 21 will be legally permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, up to four grams of cannabis concentrate, and up to 500 milligrams of cannabis in an infused product, and cultivate up to three cannabis plants. It would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to establish regulations on the production and distribution of marijuana set to begin by October 1, 2023. The sales and distribution of cannabis products would be limited to seven licensed cultivation facilities and eighteen licensed retailers.
Additionally, “public consumption of marijuana will not be allowed; driving under the influence will remain illegal; and individuals who give marijuana to minors will be punished.”
It’s not the first time North Dakota voters were asked to consider legalizing cannabis in their state. In 2018, Measure 3, sponsored by Legalize ND, was placed on the ballot for voters to consider. It was similar to the current measure but included built-in criminal justice reform for cannabis-related convictions and sentences. It would have allowed all those with criminal records related to non-violent cannabis-related crimes to have their records expunged automatically. Measure 3 was rejected by voters in 2018 when 59.45% of voters selected “no” on the ballot.
North Dakota’s Legislative Process
For initiatives to make it onto the ballot in North Dakota, the measure must first be approved by a petition of at least 15,582 valid signatures (2% of the state’s current population). The responsible committee must submit all collected signatures at least 120 days before election day.
New Approach North Dakota, the initiative’s sponsor, submitted a proposed petition to the secretary of state before it was approved for circulation and signature gathering on April 21. When the submission deadline arrived on July 11, the New Approach North Dakota campaign submitted over 25,000 signatures to the North Dakota secretary of state’s office. By August 15, it was confirmed: the North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative will be on the ballot this November.
Barriers to Cannabis Legalization
North Dakota legislators have previously blocked measures intended to legalize cannabis use. In 2021, State Representative Jason Dockter (R) introduced a bill to legalize recreational cannabis. On February 23, 2021, The North Dakota House of Representatives passed the measure known as House Bill 1420 with 56 votes in favor and 38 against. Democrats cast 14 of the 56 Yes votes, and Republicans cast the other 42 Yes votes.
However, when the bill went to the North Dakota State Senate on March 25, 2021, it was defeated 10 to 37. Only three Democratic State Senators and seven Republican State Senators voted in favor of the bill. Because the bill was rejected in the State Senate, cannabis was not legalized in 2021 and now voters are again tasked with the decision in November.
Advocates Cite Positive Changes in Neighboring States
While voters rejected the 2018 ballot initiative to legalize cannabis, advocates believe the 2022 North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative has a fighting chance this November.
David Owen, the current campaign manager for New Approach ND and the former chairman of Legalize ND, the organization that sponsored the 2018 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, spoke with Erika Kraven of KFYR News about how the 2022 measure compares to the past initiative. “The biggest difference between now and 2018,” Owen explained, “is that this is restricted, regulated, controlled, legal marijuana. This is a marijuana program that is very, very similar to the one that passed the North Dakota State House,” said Owen.
Those who support the initiative believe its passage will remove barriers to mental health care and create more opportunities for the state’s residents in a safe and restricted manner. Republican State Representative Matthew Ruby spoke with Marijuana Moment’s Kyle Yaeger about his thoughts on the 2022 ballot initiative. “It removes barriers for North Dakota veterans and other people with health conditions who need access to cannabis for therapeutic reasons,” Ruby shared.
“It will also create good jobs and new economic opportunities for farmers in our state. With reasonable controls and regulations in place, this measure represents a responsible approach to legalization. Our neighbors in Montana are demonstrating that cannabis legalization can work successfully. Now it’s our turn to move forward.”
Campaign Finances Look Different in 2022
In 2018, Legalize ND and Legalize North Dakota raised a little more than 88 thousand dollars, spending 77 thousand in the failed efforts to pass Ballot Initiative 3.
This year, the New Approach Political Action Committee (PAC) out of Washington, DC raised more than half a million dollars, specifically for the North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The New Approach PAC is a 527 non-profit organization created in 2014, and has raised more than 10 million dollars for various states' efforts to support marijuana legalization and medical marijuana initiatives. They put up $302,644 in in-kind donations.
Outside of that, the primary donors for the New Approach North Dakota Ballot Measure so far have been medical dispensaries, a real estate firm, and other activist organizations designed to raise money to promote cannabis legalization in the United States. The Marijuana Policy Project, the leading organization supporting cannabis legalization in the U.S., donated $50,893 in kind to the campaign fund.
Two medical marijuana dispensaries in North Dakota, Pure Dakota LLC and Strive Life Grand Forks, donated $70,000 and $17,500 to the fund, respectively. GR Real Estate Holdings OH-ND, LLC also gifted the PAC $87,500 to support the cause.
In 2018, the North Dakota Petroleum Council helped fund the opposition to the campaign to legalize cannabis. However, in 2022, the organization decided to refrain in order to save its limited resources for other matters. So far, no other organizations have publicly dedicated resources to oppose the measure.
Voters hit the polls in North Dakota on November 8th to decide on this issue and term limits for elected officials within the state government. Absentee ballots and early voting must be returned and completed by November 7.
This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks.
Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and editor. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, Healthline’s Bezzy Depression, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about social justice, history, and entertainment journalism. In her free time, she loves binging horror movies, spending time with her girlfriend, and needle-felting monster sculptures.