Despite growing interest in North Dakota’s marijuana legalization ballot measure among the state’s voters, it is groups and individuals from outside the state who are driving much of the funding on either side of the debate heading up to Election Day. And newly filed campaign finance reports show that opponents have far more resources on hand than do supporters of ending cannabis prohibition.
Measure 3, Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement Initiative, would legally allow the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 years of age or older, including but not limited to “growing, manufacturing, distributing, selling or testing of marijuana.” It would also create an automatic process to expunge the criminal records of “individuals with convictions for a controlled substance that has been legalized.” The proposal was certified for the ballot in August, with advocates having collected 1,100 more valid signatures than the 13,452 required to place it before voters.
Two campaign committees have formed to support the legalization initiative.
LegalizeND registered with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on August 13, and Legalize North Dakota on September 5. The latter organization’s recently filed campaign finance report indicates that it has $1,600 on hand, but does not indicate where the money came from.
LegalizeND’s reports give a clearer picture. The group has received $9,457 in cash and $14,100 in in-kind donations. Over half of the cash ($5,652) came from donations of under $100.
The largest cash donation ($1,065) came from an individual in Minnesota. Two former North Dakota Libertarian candidates, Marty Riske and Eric Olson, donated $3,350 and $2,000 in-kind, respectively.
National legalization organization NORML has donated $2,538 worth of in-kind services and materials, and travel writer Rick Steves is reported as providing $5,803 as an in-kind donation, as part of his visit to North Dakota last week to drum up support for the initiative.
Meanwhile, on the anti-legalization side, 100 percent of reported contributions to Healthy and Productive North Dakota (HAPND) have come from a single source: national anti-marijuana lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), based in Alexandria, Virginia. Resources on the group’s website also point to documents created by SAM. HAPND, which registered September 27, submitted reports showing a total of $156,234 from SAM, with $100,156 of that as in-kind services or resources.
SAM emphasized its efforts in the state in a fundraising email on October 9, which stated:
“Chief of Staff, Luke Niforatos, and our Marijuana Accountability Coalition coordinator, Justin Luke Riley, kicked off our formal campaign – Healthy and Productive North Dakota – and we launched a series of billboards and social media ads in key North Dakota markets… The marijuana industry is going all-in for the states in which it is working to legalize. They are salivating at the opportunity to expand their profit-driven scheme in a new state.”
Business groups from within North Dakota formed a separate anti-measure committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana (NDALRM). The group, which registered on September 4, is managed by Matt Gardner, the director of government affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber.
The Chamber itself is the biggest donor to NDALRM, thus far committing $30,000. The North Dakota Retail Association and Associated General Contractors of North Dakota have each put in $10,000. Sporting goods chain Scheels has donated $8,500, and its CEO Steve Scheel personally contributed $10,000. Oil man Fred Evans put in $10,000 as has the North Dakota Petroleum Council. The North Dakota Motor Carriers Association ponied up $5,000, and North Dakota Beer Wholesalers contributed $2,500. And State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) chipped in $1,000.
In total, NDALRM has raised $116,200 in cash, including $2,250 in donations under $100 each. In its October 5 report, the group reported spending only $38,490 thus far. LegalizeND meanwhile reported that it had spent all but $25 of its cash as of October 5, and hasn’t reported any cash donations of over $500 since then. That means it’s likely North Dakota voters will be seeing a lot more anti-Measure 3 advertisements and other materials than paid communications supporting legalization in the remaining weeks before they head to the polls.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.