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ND Voters Might Get Another Say on Legalizing Marijuana

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Tuesday, April 19, 2022   

A pending decision could provide more clarity on whether North Dakota will get another chance to see how voters feel about legalizing marijuana.

This month, a campaign called New Approach North Dakota launched efforts to collect enough signatures to get the issue on the fall ballot. The Secretary of State is deciding whether the group can start circulating petitions. Similar drives in North Dakota have fallen apart in the past couple of years.

Mark Friese, a criminal defense attorney, former police officer, and treasurer of the campaign, said the plan is not as broadly written and might resonate more within the state's political landscape, while being more aligned with existing state law.

"I visited with a lot of people during the last efforts to do this," Friese recounted. "And there were a large number of people that said, 'I support in theory what's being advanced here, but I don't like the way it's being done.' "

The proposed ballot question is modeled after legislation that gained some traction in the last session, but ultimately didn't pass. The new plan would allow adults 21 and older to possess limited amounts of cannabis and purchase products from registered establishments.

National polls indicate overwhelming public support for legalization, but North Dakota voters rejected the idea in 2018.

Since then, other petition efforts ran into pandemic barriers, as well as not collecting enough signatures in time. One organizer suggested it was difficult to reach the threshold with unpaid volunteers.

Friese acknowledged they have a tight window this time but hopes they are building an outreach system which will allow voters to rethink the issue. He argued the public needs another chance to decide whether adults should live with lifelong consequences for minor drug offenses.

"I've represented good people who have been denied housing," Friese explained. "They've been denied enlistment into the military. They've been denied admission into colleges or institutions of higher learning. "

The issue is being closely monitored in the Midwest, with South Dakota debating legalization as well. Voters in the state approved the idea in 2020, but opponents successfully overturned the decision by challenging the wording of the ballot question.

Friese added while the "multiple subject" rule applies to North Dakota legislation, it does not affect ballot questions put before voters.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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