Recreational Pot Measure Has High Interest in North Dakota

Recreational Pot Measure Has High Interest in North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. — Backers of legalizing marijuana in North Dakota have high hopes that voters will approve the drug’s use for anyone old enough to drink alcohol. But they could be in for a bummer because opponents have spent far more money against the proposal. Critics say it would mean big problems for law enforcement and society. It comes as North Dakota still is setting up a medical marijuana system that voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

A look at the measure that’s on the ballot on Nov. 6:


The measure would make it legal for people 21 and older to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana. It would also seal the records of anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that, under the measure, would have been legal. And it would expunge tens of thousands of criminal records of those previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes.

Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana. Supporters think that, plus the state’s 2016 vote for medicinal marijuana, suggests they can win in conservative North Dakota.


In terms of dollars, pro-marijuana supporters have an uphill fight. The sponsors have raised about $31,000, with almost no support from big national groups that work to legalize marijuana.

Opponents, who have formed a group backed by lawyers, law enforcement and business leaders, have raised more than $173,000. That includes $50,000 from the Greater North Dakota Chamber and $30,000 from the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents several hundred companies working in the state’s oil patch.


Weed advocates say they’re making up for their cash deficit with passion. Dave Owen, a University of North Dakota student who is chairman of the Legalize ND campaign, said his group has had 300 volunteers knocking on doors and used social media and phone banks to try to build support, including at the state’s 11 public colleges and universities.

North Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana in 2016 but it remains unavailable in the state. The group has been banking on voter frustration in the state’s delay in setting up a system to make them more likely to support recreational marijuana.

Backers have also targeted farmers, who might be tempted to grow pot as a cash crop. North Dakota‘s two largest farmer groups, Farmers Union and Farm Bureau, haven’t taken a position on the measure.


The state attorney general’s office estimated it would take more than 100 temporary workers at a cost of $1.1 million to wipe away nearly 180,000 criminal records related to marijuana. The state Health Department estimated it would take $4 million for a campaign to warn kids about the dangers of pot.

Marijuana advocates say opponents are trying to kill the measure with sticker shock. They say legalization shouldn’t require bigger government or more spending.

The North Dakota Sheriff’s and Deputies Association says legalization would create more problems for them, like more violent crimes, more impaired driving and issues in the workplace. More than half of drug arrests involve marijuana, according to statistics from the Attorney General’s Office.


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James MacPherson, The Associated Press

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