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North Dakota goes bare-bones with its recreational cannabis measure

By Meg Ellis
Sep 21, 2018

On November 8, North Dakota may become the tenth state in the Union to legalize recreational marijuana. North Dakota’s Ballot Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement Initiative, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 years old, or older, and would also create an automatic criminal expungement process for individuals with controlled substance convictions.

The problem with this pot legalization proposal? It’s purposefully vague regarding laying a legal foundation for a recreational pot program; failing to establish program parameters, implementation deadlines, or even a basic taxation program.

Cole Haymond, an adviser to the Legalize ND campaign, stated that the ballot measure is ambiguous by design. “We leave our bill wide open so the [state] legislature can do their job - regulations, taxes, zoning, whatever,” Haymond told the Washington Post last July. “This bill is by far the most progressive yet most conservative marijuana legalization bill that will be on any ballot across the country.”

[Election News: Cannabis advocate Willie Nelson is bonkers for Beto]

Progressive, and conservative? Can one bill really cover both of those bases?! All that can be said for certain of the ballot measure is that the policy itself is certainly one of the briefest marijuana legalization measures in the nation.

At 14 pages, the bill mainly includes amendments to existing statutory language, with fun words like “metamfepramone” taking up the majority of the proposed legislation. The actual newly proposed bill language takes up less than one page, providing definitions on marijuana and criminal penalties relating to marijuana, but gives the state nothing else to go on.  

What would the ballot measure actually do?

If the ballot measure passes as currently written, it would legalize marijuana possession, sale, and use for North Dakotans 21 and older. Additionally, the bill would create an automatic expungement process for North Dakotans with cannabis-related convictions. The state of North Dakota would also become liable for damages resulting from expungement lawsuits.

Specifically, the measure would remove hashish, marijuana, and THC from the list of Schedule I controlled substances in North Dakota. Additionally, if passed the measure would prohibit the prosecution of individuals over the age of 21 for growing, selling, distributing, or smoking cannabis.

Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t explain how it will accomplish any of this.

[Elon Musk smokes weed and all hell breaks loose]

North Dakota’s Measure 3 does not contain limits on the amount of marijuana a person may possess, nor establish a taxation system or specific revenue dedications. All other measures across the U.S. provided specific language on the following pot-program issues: how much marijuana a person may possess, how many homegrown plants an individual can have, local municipality control, taxation (including excise sales, producer, gross revenue, and cultivation taxes), and marijuana revenue dedications—mostly to public education and general funds.

This level of legal-specificity may seem like overkill to the undiscerning reader; however, this sort of language is necessary to create a statewide policy. Legislators need a blueprint to help implement a program that will have an agricultural and economic impact on their state.

What are the odds of this measure passing?

What are the odds of North Dakota, a famously red state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic president in the electoral college since 1964, actually passing this loose-language marijuana measure?

Unfortunately, survey results have been mixed for this measure. However, the measure did receive 14,637 valid signatures, passing the state’s requirement of 13,452 valid signatures to secure its place on the November ballot.

Additionally, in 2016, North Dakotans passed the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative through a ballot measure, allowing medical marijuana treatment for patients with debilitating medical conditions. This measure received approval by a vote of 63.79 percent to 36.21 percent.

North Dakotans may also be partial to the criminal expungement portion of the measure. In spite of being such a red state, North Dakota has one of the highest arrest rates for marijuana possession in the Union, according to a report by NORML.

[SAMHSA reports increased cannabis use among most age groups: Americans assume more risks with marijuana]

This report utilized a compilation of FBI crime data and found that in 2016, approximately 2,513 North Dakotans were arrested for marijuana possession.

Finally, North Dakota is the only state that may be able to crack the green banking code. In 1919, North Dakota established its own state-owned bank. The bank was established through legislative action to promote agriculture, commerce, and industry within the state. Initially, the brain-child of the Non-Partisan League, the bank wound up taking a central banking role in the state’s finance —-one which does not require federal oversight.

This state-owned bank is an incredibly unique opportunity for the cannabis industry. One fly in this financial ointment: the bank’s current president and CEO Eric Hardmeyer has stated that the Bank of North Dakota will not provide banking services for cannabis industries.

When asked by Prairie Public News, Hardmeyer stated that his bank “Looked at the risk associated with [cannabis], and decided the risk at this point would be too great.”

Hardmeyer concluded that Congress would need to step in and pass a few laws concerning medical marijuana, not even touching the subject of recreational cannabis-use before his bank would consider providing their services to the marijuana industry.

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