Group files petitions to put recreational marijuana on North Dakota's November ballot

BISMARCK, N.D. — Organizers of a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota submitted petition signatures on Monday, likely setting up another statewide vote on the issue that voters and state lawmakers have previously defeated.

The New Economic Frontier measure group submitted more than 22,000 signatures, sponsoring committee chairman Steve Bakken said. The initiative needs 15,582 valid signatures to make the Nov. 5 general election ballot. Secretary of State Michael Howe’s office has until Aug. 12 to review the petition signatures.

Bakken, a Burleigh County commissioner and former Bismarck mayor, said the measure is an effort to preclude any one from out of state that might be potentially unmanageable.

“A lot of what we don’t want to see is what’s going on in some of the other states, and we think that this is a measure that fits the conservative nature of North Dakota,” Bakken told reporters in an office where Howe’s staff unboxed petitions. Also, law enforcement resources should focus more on opioids and fentanyl, not minor marijuana offenses, he said.

The 20-page statutory measure would legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older to use at their homes and, if permitted, on others’ private property. The measure also outlines numerous production and processing regulations, prohibited uses — such as in public or in vehicles — and would allow home cultivation of plants.

The measure would set maximum purchase and possession amounts of 1 ounce of dried leaves or flowers, 4 grams of a cannabinoid concentrate, 1,500 mg of total THC in the form of a cannabis product and 300 mg of an edible product. It would allow cannabis solutions, capsules, transdermal patches, concentrates, topical and edible products.

Marijuana use by people under 21 is a low-level misdemeanor in North Dakota. Recreational use by anyone older is not a crime — but possessing it is, with penalties varying from an infraction to misdemeanors depending on the amount of marijuana. Delivery of any amount of marijuana is a felony, which can be elevated depending on certain factors, such as if the offense was within 300 feet (91 meters) of a school.

Last year, 4,451 people statewide were charged with use or possession of marijuana, according to North Dakota Courts data requested by The Associated Press.

North Dakota voters previously rejected legalization measures in 2018 and 2022.

In 2021, the Republican-led state House of Representatives passed bills to legalize and tax recreational marijuana, which the GOP-majority Senate defeated. Opponents decried what they called the harmful physiological and societal effects of marijuana.

Voters approved medical marijuana use in 2016. The state-run program has nearly 10,000 active patient cards.

In 2019, the state’s Pardon Advisory Board approved a new process to ease pardons for low-level marijuana offenses. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum granted 100 such pardons from 2019 to 2023, according to his office.

Twenty-four states have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Ohio did so most recently, by initiative in November 2023. Measures will be on the ballot in Florida and South Dakota in November.

In May, the federal government began a process to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug.

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