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Pandemic Impacts Marijuana Legalization Efforts, Including in ND

Organizers of a recreational marijuana ballot initiative in North Dakota say they're not giving up, but the pandemic will delay their efforts. (Adobe Stock)
Organizers of a recreational marijuana ballot initiative in North Dakota say they're not giving up, but the pandemic will delay their efforts. (Adobe Stock)
April 9, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The group behind a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota is no longer trying for this fall's election.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the group Legalize ND is now aiming for 2022.

In a recent message posted on social media, Legalize ND said social distancing guidelines make it unsafe to go door-to-door gathering signatures.

David Owen, the group's chairman, says the pandemic's timing also impacts other ways of getting support.

"Looking even further out on a broader horizon, the major events at which we get our signatures have either been canceled or indefinitely postponed," he explains.

But Legalize ND won't completely suspend its effort. Owen says the group will now try to meet a deadline to get the measure on the ballot for the next available statewide election, which is the June primary in 2022.

State law does not allow organizers of ballot initiatives to collect signatures through mail or online.

The public health crisis has had an impact on similar legalization efforts on other states, including South Dakota and Idaho.

Owen says he hopes the situation convinces policymakers to change requirements for the signature process.

"You can sign for a candidate to be on the ballot by mail, and you can even vote by mail," he points out. "So, in theory, you should be able to sign a petition to put something on the ballot by mail."

Owen says enough safeguards could be added to protect against any fraudulent signature gathering.

In 2018, North Dakota voters rejected a request to legalize recreational marijuana. The state has allowed medical cannabis since 2016.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND