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North Dakota Will Vote on Recreational Weed Legalization in November

North Dakota officials announced Monday that the initiative to legalize marijuana for adults was on the ballot. It will now be up for voters at the November general elections. New Approach North Dakota was the organization that spearheaded the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. It submitted 26,048 petition signatures back in July. Al Jaeger of the Office of Secretary of the State verified Tuesday that 23,368 signatures had been submitted by registered voters. That’s far greater than the requirement of 15,582 signatures to make the November ballot.

If passed by voters in this year’s general election, the ballot measure would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and small amounts of cannabis concentrates by adults 21 and older. The initiative also establishes a regulatory framework to govern commercial cannabis production and sales, which would be administered by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services or another agency designated by lawmakers.

Regulations governing marijuana labeling, packaging, and testing would be available to regulators until October 1, 2023. They could also draft regulations for security at cannabis facilities. With a cap on the number licenses that can be held by one entity, the initiative will limit the industry to only seven production plants and 18 retail cannabis shops.

House Bill Inspired by Initiative

The initiative supporters claim that the proposal is a result of recreational marijuana legalization legislation passed in North Dakota House of Representatives, but not approved by the Senate.

“There is no public safety benefit from arresting adults for small amounts of marijuana,” Mark Friese, an attorney and former police officer who serves who is the treasurer of New Approach North Dakota, said in a statement. “It is a waste of taxpayer resources and a distraction from serious public safety concerns. Cannabis does not cause as much harm as alcohol. There are many people who find medicinal benefits in cannabis. The government shouldn’t be in the business of punishing adults who use cannabis responsibly.”

Popular activists, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws., were pleased to hear that the marijuana legalization initiative was qualified for the November elections.

“North Dakota has long had one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation, despite having among the lowest reported marijuana use of any state,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a statement from the cannabis advocacy group. “Legalization will not only bring justice to thousands of North Dakotans, but it will also provide a new, booming industry that will help local businesses and the countless family farms in the state. We expect that come November, North Dakotans are going to send a loud and clear message that they reject the failed policy of prohibition and that they want to take a new and more sensible approach forward by legalizing and regulating marijuana.”

“This measure will ensure that North Dakotans have safe and regulated access to cannabis products, thereby creating jobs, bolstering the agricultural community, and reprioritizing law enforcement’s priorities away from marijuana arrests to focus on violent crime,” added NORML state policies Manager Jax James.

Brian Vicente, founding partner at the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, noted that passage of the initiative would likely have political ramifications for the state’s lawmakers and could impact national cannabis reform efforts.

“North Dakota qualifying legalization for the November ballot is a big step towards national legalization,” Vicente wrote in an email to Chronic News. “Not only will this vote allow patients who don’t qualify under the current medical law to have safe access, but it will also force a robust discussion on adult-use marijuana policy in a traditionally conservative state.”

“Importantly, if this vote passes, the state’s Republican senators will have a decision to make in D.C.— do they support the will of their state’s voters, or do they continue supporting federal laws that criminalize cannabis consumers in their state?” he added. “North Dakota is the sixth state slated to vote on legalization this November, which is sure to make fun election night viewing.”

North Dakota voters approved in 2016 a referendum legalizing medicinal cannabis use, but rejected the proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana.