Earlier today, the North Dakota Senate defeated House Bill 1420. This was Rep. Jason Dockter’s (R – District 7) effort to legalize recreational marijuana. Many expected the bill to have a chance, but it wasn’t to be. After some passionate pleas for its defeat on the Senate floor, the legislation only garnered 10 green votes.
Fundamentally, there were two reasons that so many thought passage was a possibility:
- Proponents of legalization have made it clear that they’re not backing off the issue. In fact, efforts are already underway to put the issue on the ballot in 2022. In other words, it’s seen as inevitable that legalization will become a reality. The only question was whether the legislature wanted to craft how it looks or not.
- HB 1420 struck a balance we’d not seen previously. Had it passed, marijuana would have been legal under very specific conditions. Two of the main ones being that it could only be used on private property and not in the presence of those under 21 years of age.
Interestingly enough, we may not have seen the last of this issue in the 2021 Legislative Session. As the final speaker on the floor today, Senator Dick Dever (R – District 32) suggested to his colleagues that they defeat HB 1420 and draft a delayed resolution to put the issue to a vote of the people. Whether that played in to some voting against it remains to be seen.
With all due respect, I must say that I believe the biggest obstacle to legalization might be amongst proponents themselves. In order to win, people must coalesce behind a winning strategy. That didn’t happen after 2018 when Measure 3 was defeated with over 59% of the vote.
Instead, factions developed within the movement— to the point of even having competing ideas for ballot measures. Eventually, efforts to do something in 2020 were sidetracked by COVID-19.
Don’t get me wrong, with things like expungement of records, possession limits, home-growing, etc. always part of the discussion, disagreements are inevitable. But at some point, proponents have to decide if they want to win or not. If they do, they have to accept the reality that some things just won’t be accepted by the citizenry at large. And those things must be identified and left out of future efforts.
To be very honest, I think the best thing supporters of legalization could do going forward is to take the bill the Senate just defeated and put it on the ballot as an initiated measure. I’m confident it will pass. It strikes the kind of balance Measure 3 didn’t have.
As an old political friend of mine always says, “Do you want to be right or do you want to win?” That’s the question facing supporters of legalization. And the sooner they answer the latter, the sooner they’ll achieve victory at the ballot box.
As for the Senate, I truly believe that all they did today was kick the can down the road. As I said in 2018— legalization is coming to North Dakota. Only now it’s back in the hands of legalization proponents to decide when that’ll be.
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