In late November, the group known as “Legalize ND” turned in their proposed ballot measure to the Secretary of State’s office, with the hope of being approved to gather signatures, for an effort to legalize recreational marijuana. Just two and a half weeks later, Secretary of State Al Jaeger gave them the go ahead. There’s 13,452 signatures required to put the issue to a vote of the people, but yesterday Legalize ND turned in nearly 19,000 of them. That’s a pretty good cushion.
It’s expected that some time within the next month the validation of signatures will be complete, and the measure will be approved for the November ballot. What exactly would passage of the proposal accomplish? In the words of Legalize ND’s website:
“The measure legalizes the use, sale, possession, and distribution of marijuana for anyone 21 years or older. For anyone under the age of 21, the law creates a new specific subset of non-felony penalties. Additionally, the law legalizes ‘paraphernalia’ for marijuana exclusively. Finally, records are expunged for anyone that followed the new law even if it occurred in the past, except for cases of someone being under the age of 21.”
I think it’s safe to say that the opposition to recreational marijuana will now begin to surface in a way that we’ve not yet seen. This will especially be true once Al Jaeger verifies there’s an adequate amount of signatures. In essence, the true campaigning – both for and against – begins now.
What kind of arguments will Legalize ND have to respond to? Here’s a few just off the top of my head:
- Marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level. This is a true statement. But does it matter to voters who approved of Medical Marijuana with nearly 64% of the vote back in 2016? Not to mention the fact that President Trump recently broke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ desires and said he is likely to support new legislation that would leave the marijuana issue to the states— where it belongs.
- It’s too much of a burden to expect the state to expunge the records of all those 21 and older who have previously violated laws. I wrote about this back in November. While I still have concerns on how this may affect some voters, I’m not as concerned as I was then. Not only is the state capable of making this happen within the 30 days required by the measure, but Legalize ND does a pretty good job of explaining expungement here.
- Legalization in other states like Colorado, Washington, Alaska, etc. has been terribly problematic. I expect this to be a common – and broad – topic of discussion between now and November. The Cato Institute – a limited government “think tank” – published a study called, “Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations“. It could be argued that their conclusion wasn’t particularly favorable to either side of the debate when it came to claims and arguments. In their words, “… state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes… we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization.” Yet, I’d suggest that if Cato’s findings show the sky didn’t fall after legalization – and states are no longer expending taxpayer resources on enforcement of marijuana laws – then it actually strengthens the argument for legalization.
- Using marijuana may well threaten a person’s ability to legally own a firearm. This is related to #1. And yes, it’s true. I wrote about this in relation to Medical Marijuana back in December. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives issued an official letter to all Federal Firearm Licensees informing them of this in 2011. North Dakotans love their guns. But I also think they’re capable of making a determination for themselves whether they want to put their ability to own a gun at risk.
- Marijuana is a gateway drug. I’d be shocked if this one wasn’t somewhere at the top of the list for those arguing against legalization. After all, I don’t recall a time that the argument didn’t exist. Yes, it predates me— by quite a bit. There’s only one problem— it’s likely not true. Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse admits, “…the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”
I’ll stop at #5. But suffice it to say, you’ll hear these arguments – and many others – when it comes to the debate on legalizing marijuana in North Dakota.
Now, lest I be misunderstood, I want to make it perfectly clear… I’m not advocating for the use of marijuana. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’ve never used it myself. But like the prohibition of alcohol, the War on Marijuana has been an absolute failure— all at the expense of the taxpayer. Not to mention the fact that alcohol is far more problematic than “weed”— which led me, on one occasion, to point out the hypocrisy of those who indulge in adult beverages, yet think they should be able to dictate to others that they can’t use marijuana.
Total legalization has been a topic of conversation before, but things got real yesterday in the Secretary of State’s office when nearly 19,000 signatures were turned in to put the question to a vote of the people in November. As a result, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the true debate begins now.
In our opinion, Legalize ND is right… it’s time.