Under an effort that has so far gone mostly unnoticed by drug policy reform observers across the country, North Dakota voters could have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would fully legalize marijuana and create a pathway to exonerations for those with past cannabis convictions.
Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed a medical marijuana legalization measure with 64 percent support. But the program’s rollout hasn’t been smooth—leaving prospective patients without access to dispensaries and barred from home cultivation—and so a small team of anti-prohibition organizers at Legalize ND decided to write a new initiative to help patients and adults consume and grow cannabis freely.
The organization hasn’t received financial backing from national advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, Eric Owens Sr., who wrote the initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview. Instead, it’s relied on a steady flow of grassroots support and word-of-mouth to collect signatures in support of the measure. Owens said Legalize ND has collected more than 16,000 signatures so far, but the group is expecting to turn in about 20,000 to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on July 9.
The state requires 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures must first be verified before the initiative officially qualifies.
“We’re thousands over the required amount,” Owens said. “When people talk about grassroots, this really, legitimately was grassroots. Nobody was there because nobody cared about us in North Dakota.”
“It is logistically really tough [in North Dakota], but we pulled it together—and it’s because people want to have what they voted for—and that was taken away by the legislature.”
It’s going to be an uphill battle for Legalize ND, which is expecting to face opposition from one of the largest employers in the state, Sanford Health, as well as the highway patrol and the prosecutors association. That said, internal polling from the organization indicates strong support for the initiative, Owens said.
“We don’t have money to fight them with TV or radio, we’re just going to be common sense and let people know through social media. The people—plain and simple—they got screwed out of their medical marijuana and they want revenge.”
Though North Dakota might not seem the most likely contender to become one of the next states to fully legalize marijuana, voters elsewhere have already delivered cannabis reform surprises in 2018: Oklahomans approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana earlier this week.
And even though the North Dakota effort hasn’t yet garnered substantial support from major organizations that have helped pass ballot measures in other states, those same organizations were taken by surprise in 2016 when a similar local grassroots effort got the successful medical cannabis measure on the state’s ballot without serious funding.
Local political commentator Rob Fort predicted in a column this week that “barring some major problem with the petitions this issue should be on the ballot.”
Meanwhile, several other states are expected to vote on cannabis ballot measures this November.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.