Marijuana Legalization Group Sees Value in Plan from ND Lawmakers

Mike Moen

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota lawmakers are giving strong consideration to the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana.

It's seen as a way to get ahead of citizen-led efforts, and a key advocacy group said it doesn't think voters are being shut out of the process.

Republican lawmakers leading the effort say they might otherwise be opposed to legalization, but they'd feel comfortable with a program that has tighter restrictions, and they want to ward off any mandate from voters through a ballot initiative.

David Owen, chairman of the pro-reform group Legalize ND, said generally speaking, he doesn't have a problem with lawmakers being in the lead right now.

"I don't think this is so much trying to circumvent the will of the people, if you will," Owen explained. "I see this as a way where they can enact the will of the people in a controlled manner that we can go back and work on in the future."

More than a dozen states have legalized marijuana use, with many more adopting medical cannabis programs, including North Dakota.

Owen added making changes would be much harder with a ballot initiative.

His group supports House Bill 1420, which would allow recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older, but with a host of restrictions, including a ban on home cultivation.

The measure has cleared the House and is now getting a look in the state Senate.

North Dakota voters rejected the idea when it appeared on the 2018 ballot, and a similar petition drive stalled last year during the pandemic.

But Owen argued lawmakers see the writing on the wall, and are convinced the public's general attitude toward marijuana use is shifting.

"So what this shows, is marijuana legalization's no longer a partisan issue," Owen contended. "It's no longer 'hippy Democrats' versus social-conservative Republicans."

He pointed to South Dakota, another conservative state, where voters approved recreational use through a ballot initiative last fall. However, the result is now being challenged by some Republican leaders.

More than a dozen states have legalized marijuana use, with many more adopting medical cannabis programs, including North Dakota.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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