And then there were five: With an announcement Monday by the secretary of state that a New Approach North Dakota marijuana legalization initiative had qualified for the ballot, the number of states where legalization is on the ballot climbs to five. The others are Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. (Another legalization effort in Oklahoma is awaiting confirmation that it has gathered sufficient valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.)New Approach North Dakota easily cleared the state's signature requirement of 15,582 valid voter signatures, with the secretary of state's office reporting the group had 23,368 valid signatures.
Now officially known as Initiated Statutory Measure No. 1, the initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, four grams of concentrates and infused products, and grow up to three plants at home, but not to consume it in public.
The measure includes specific child custody protections for parents who use marijuana in accord with state law, but employers could continue to prohibit marijuana use and there is no provision for expungement. New Approach North Dakota says it intends to address that in the legislature next year. The measure would also allow cities and counties to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses.
The initiative also creates a regulatory framework for commercial production and sales of marijuana with the Department of Health and Human Services (or a different agency designated by the legislature) developing rules and regulations and overseeing licensing of marijuana businesses. Regulators would have until October 1, 2023, to come up with rules for advertising, labeling, packaging, security, and testing standards.
There would be no new tax for marijuana, but the state's 5 percent retail sales tax would apply to marijuana sales. Those tax revenues are not designated for any particular fund. Commercial cultivators would have to pay an annual $110,000 registration fee and retailers would have to pay an annual $90,000 fee.
The number of retailers would be limited to 18 and the number of grow facilities limited to seven. In a bid to reduce monopolistic tendencies in the industry, no one person or entity could own more than one grow facility or four retail stores.
"Measure 1 is a conservative approach to cannabis legalization based on legislation passed by the North Dakota House of Representatives. It balances personal freedom with personal responsibility," said state Rep. Matthew Ruby (R), a member of the campaign's sponsoring committee. "Adults will no longer be punished for using cannabis -- but only if they do so safely and responsibly. As voters have a chance to review the measure in detail, I'm confident a majority will agree this is the right approach for North Dakota."
Just four years ago, state voters rejected a marijuana legalization initiative by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, but things will be different this time around, argued New Approach North Dakota campaign chairman David Owen.
"So, the biggest difference between now and Measure 3 of 2018… is this is restricted, regulated, controlled, legal marijuana," Owen said.
"I served as a police officer in Bismarck for over five years and have defended those accused of marijuana offenses for the last twenty years, said Mark Friese, an attorney and former police officer who is the campaign treasurer. "There is no public safety benefit from arresting adults for small amounts of marijuana. It is a waste of taxpayer resources and a distraction from serious public safety concerns. Cannabis causes far less harm than alcohol. Many people find therapeutic benefits from it. The government shouldn't be in the business of punishing adults who use cannabis responsibly."
Up to now, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, and in 11 of them and DC, it was via the initiative process. We are likely to pick up several more in November. In the best-case scenario, when the dust settles after Election Day, half the states in the country will have legalized it.