North Dakota Likely to Vote on Marijuana Legalization After Activists Submit Signatures

    On July 11, North Dakota activists turned in what they believe to be more than enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot.

    The campaign New Approach ND delivered 25,762 signatures to the secretary of state’s office, which will now go through a verification process before the measure is potentially qualified. Activists need 15,582 valid signatures from registered voters to make the cut.

    This development comes about three months after the campaign was cleared by the state to begin the signature drive.

    The initiative would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis and grow up to three plants for personal use. Its provisions largely mirror a House-passed legalization bill that was ultimately rejected by the Senate.

    “This signature drive showed us that, from Williston to Grand Forks, people all across our state are ready.”

    “So many people I spoke to were excited to sign our petition, strongly supporting the initiative for a wide variety of reasons,” New Approach ND Treasurer Mark Friese said in a press release. “Having practiced criminal law for more than 20 years, and as a former police officer, it is obvious the status quo of arresting adults for small amounts of marijuana doesn’t make our communities any safer—it only wastes limited law enforcement and court resources. I’m looking forward to presenting the facts about this issue to more and more voters as November approaches.”

    Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office has rejected two other ballot initiatives on unrelated issues this cycle after determining that many of the signatures those campaigns collected were invalid, but New Approach ND Campaign Manager David Owens said he’s confident that the group took the necessary precautions to ensure that its measure will be accepted.

    While the campaign had already secured more than 21,000 signatures ahead of the weekend, organizers held events across the state to expand that buffer before the July 11 turn-in deadline. Owens said the initiative has enjoyed enthusiastic, bipartisan support.

    “This signature drive showed us that, from Williston to Grand Forks, people all across our state are ready for responsible cannabis policy reform,” he said. “We are tremendously grateful to the tens of thousands of North Dakotans who signed and our terrific team of signature gatherers. We’re looking forward to all of our hard work paying off when we receive the official word that we’re on the ballot.”


    Here’s a breakdown of the measure’s key provisions:

    *Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 4 grams of marijuana concentrate, and flower produced from up to three plants grown for personal use, as long as that cannabis is stored in the same location that the plant was cultivated.

    *The Department of Health and Human Services, or a different agency 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 related to security, advertising, labeling, packaging and testing standards.

    *The department could only license a maximum of seven cultivation facilities and 18 retailers. In an effort to mitigate the risk of having the market monopolized by large companies, the initiative stipulates that no individual or entity would be permitted to own more than one cultivation facility or four retail locations.

    *There would be specific child custody protections for parents who use cannabis in compliance with state law.

    *Employers could continue to enforce existing drug policy prohibiting marijuana use.

    *With respect to past criminal records, the initiative would not provide a pathway for expungements, though activists say they intend to work with the legislature on enacting separate legislation addressing that issue in 2023.

    *Local jurisdictions would be able to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area, and cannabis companies would also be required to adhere to local zoning rules.

    *The state’s 5 percent sales tax would apply to cannabis products, but no additional tax would be imposed specifically for marijuana.

    *Manufacturers would need to pay a biennial $110,000 registration fee and retailers would need to pay $90,000. Those funds would support the department’s implementation and administration of the adult-use program.

    *The initiative does not lay out any specific use of funds collected from these fees beyond administration.

    *Public consumption would be prohibited.


    A similar measure was introduced in the legislature in 2021. The bill, from Rep. Jason Dockter (R), passed the House but was defeated in the full Senate after advancing out of committee there.

    Following that defeat, some senators devised a new plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. The resolution moved 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 with the group North Dakota Cannabis Caucus started collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for the 2022 ballot, but they did not gather enough by a January deadline.

    House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R) previously said that he’s not “a marijuana person,” but he’s acknowledged that legalization is coming.

    Owen previously led an effort to place a legalization measure on the 2018 ballot that was defeated by voters. They filed another initiative for 2020, but signature-gathering complications, largely caused by the coronavirus pandemic, got in the way.

    Meanwhile, a bill to significantly expand marijuana decriminalization in North Dakota cleared the House last year but was later defeated in the Senate. That legislation would have built upon an initial marijuana decriminalization law that was enacted in 2019. Under the current statute, possession of half an ounce or less of cannabis is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, with no jail time. The defeated proposal would’ve made possession of up to an ounce a non-criminal offense that carried a $50 fine.

    House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R) previously said that he’s not “a marijuana person,” but he’s acknowledged that legalization is coming. While he would have previously been inclined to oppose a legalization bill, Pollert said voter approval of a legalization initiative in South Dakota has made him reconsider, adding that the legislature should “take a long, hard look” at the policy change.

    North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.


    Other Drug Policy Reform Ballot Efforts This Year

    Arkansas voters are poised to see a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot, with activists turning in what they say are more than double the required signatures to qualify the measure last week.

    Oklahoma activists said last week that they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.

    Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.

    In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.

    Advocates in Missouri have turned in more than double the amount of signatures needed to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the ballot.

    Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way—including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away, and a court battle over the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.

    Colorado activists announced in June that they have submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to place a measure on the state’s ballot to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes. A competing psychedelic reform campaign is still gathering signatures for a different, more simplified measure.

    An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.

    Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.

    The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize all drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.

    While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline. They will now be aiming for 2024, while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.

    In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.

    Meanwhile, there are various local reforms that activists want to see voters decide on this November—including local marijuana decriminalization ordinances in OhioWest Virginia and Texas.



    Photograph by Alan Levine via Flickr/Public Domain

    This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

    • Kyle is Marijuana Moment‘s Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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