North Dakota voters rejected a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana on Tuesday.
The loss for activists follows the defeat of an earlier cannabis legalization measure in 2018.
New Approach ND turned in signatures for the legalization measure in July, and Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) officially certified the initiative the following month.
Here’s a breakdown of the measure’s key provisions:
Adults 21 and older would have been able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, four grams of marijuana concentrate and flower produced from up to three plants grown for personal use, as long as that cannabis was stored in the same location that the plant was cultivated.
The Department of Health and Human Services, or a different agency designated by the legislature, would have been responsible for creating rules for the program and overseeing licensing for marijuana businesses.
Regulators would have had until October 1, 2023 to develop rules related to security, advertising, labeling, packaging and testing standards.
The department could have only licensed a maximum of seven cultivation facilities and 18 retailers. In an effort to mitigate the risk of having the market monopolized by large companies, the initiative stipulated that no individual or entity would be permitted to own more than one cultivation facility or four retail locations.
There would have been specific child custody protections for parents who use cannabis in compliance with state law.
Employers could have continued to enforce existing drug policy prohibiting marijuana use.
With respect to past criminal records, the initiative would not have provided a pathway for expungements, though activists said they intended to work with the legislature on enacting separate legislation addressing that issue in 2023.
Local jurisdictions would have been able to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area, and cannabis companies would also have been required to adhere to local zoning rules.
The state’s five percent sales tax would have applied to cannabis products, but no additional tax would have been imposed specifically for marijuana.
Manufacturers would have needed to pay a biennial $110,000 registration fee and retailers would have needed to pay $90,000. Those funds would have supported the department’s implementation and administration of the adult-use program.
The initiative did not lay out any specific use of funds collected from these fees beyond administration.
Public consumption would have been prohibited.
Last month, the campaign released two 60-second radio ads that aired statewide, including one voiced by the campaign’s treasurer, who is also a former police officer, and another from military veteran Scott Brand.
One ad talked about how neighboring Montana is already “seeing the benefits” from a 2020 vote to legalize cannabis, which created an industry that is “creating jobs and raising millions in new revenue to invest in drug treatment programs and services for veterans.”
The initiative was similar to a bill that was introduced in the legislature in 2021. The proposal from Rep. Jason Dockter (R) passed the House, but it was defeated in the full Senate after advancing out of committee there.
Following that defeat, some senators devised a new plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. The resolution moved through a key committee last year, but the Senate also blocked it.
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Representative Matthew Ruby (R), who is a member of the campaign’s sponsoring committee, previously said that the initiative “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,” he said. “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.”
There have been repeated attempts by activists to enact legalization in the Peace Garden state over the years.
Advocates with the separate group North Dakota Cannabis Caucus started collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for the 2022 ballot, but they did not gather enough by a January deadline.
New Approach ND’s David Owen previously led an effort to place a legalization measure on the 2018 ballot that was defeated by voters. They filed another initiative for 2020, but signature gathering complications largely caused by the coronavirus pandemic got in the way.
Meanwhile, a bill to significantly expand North Dakota’s current marijuana decriminalization policy cleared the House last year but was later defeated in the Senate.
That legislation would have built upon an initial marijuana decriminalization law that was enacted in 2019. Under the current statute, possession of half an ounce or less of cannabis is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, with no jail time. The defeated proposal would’ve made possession of up to an ounce a non-criminal offense that carried a $50 fine.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R) previously said that he’s not “a marijuana person,” but he’s acknowledged that cannabis legalization is coming. While he would have previously been inclined to oppose a legalization bill, Pollert said voter approval of a legalization initiative in South Dakota in 2020 has made him reconsider, adding that the legislature should “take a long, hard look” at the policy change.
Voters in several other states are also deciding on marijuana legalization ballot initiatives on Tuesday.