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.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.