Photo via iStock/ Solange_Z
North Dakota residents are likely to get the chance to vote on whether to legalize recreational cannabis in the Peace Garden State this fall, thanks to the efforts of cannabis advocates who collected enough signatures to put the measure on this year's election ballot. On Monday, the North Dakota Legalization Initiative turned in 451 petitions with a total of 18,700 signatures requesting that the Secretary of State add the initiative to the ballot for voter review.
“It’s great to see three to four years of hard work finally pay off, and to get people what they really want and what they deserve, because the people of North Dakota deserve this,” Dave Owen, chairperson of the legalization project, told the Bismarck Tribune. “Our bill is a good bill. It’s a bill that’s workable from day one, it makes sense, it’s going to create massive [agricultural] revenue…I’m just excited. I’m at a loss for words.”
The ballot measure would legalize the possession, sale, use, and distribution of cannabis for any adult aged 21 or over. The measure would also create a new subset of non-felony penalties for minors busted with marijuana. Furthermore, the bill would automatically expunge the criminal records of any adult arrested for low-level cannabis offenses. Owen explained that the bill would not release “a single individual from jail early, we’re not changing any existing sentences…What we’re doing, once they leave prison, their record is sealed.”
Owen also said that he understood that fears about stoned drivers were a major concern for opponents of legalization, and as such made certain that this measure included the country's “strictest” law against pot-impaired driving. “I trust our police, they’re great people,” he said. “They’re going to know how to see a bad driver who is on a substance, pull them over and stop them.”
Fully legal recreational pot may be a tall order for a state that has only just barely managed to establish a medical cannabis program, however. Voters approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, but the state does not expect to have product available for its licensed patients until next June, due to delays in drafting the necessary regulations. But even though the implementation of this program has been painfully slow, Owen is still confident that the state's voters will support his legalization measure.
The initiative managed to exceed the 13,452 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, but the Secretary of State must validate the signatures within the next 35 days before it can be officially approved. “This is not in the bag by any means,” Owen said to the Tribune. “We’re going to have to work hard. We’re going to have to fight hard, which is why we need our grassroots to continue getting out there, knock those doors, pound that pavement, donate if you can.”
Michigan residents will be voting on a similar measure to legalize recreational pot in their state this fall, and if the North Dakota measure makes it to the ballot, chances are good that there could be eleven U.S. states with legal recreational cannabis by year's end.