North Dakota group proposing ballot question on marijuana legalization

(The Center Square) – A group called the New Economic Frontier is asking the North Dakota Secretary of State to approve a petition that could put the legalization of recreational marijuana on the November ballot.

The potential measure is spearheaded by Burleigh County Commissioner and former Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken and 27 others. The measure would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess the drug in small amounts and cannabis businesses to sell it. If approved, recreational marijuana sales would help the state’s economy, the group said.

“Cannabis legalization is coming, and it’s coming fast,” Bakken said in a news release. “We’ve got a choice here – let out-of-state interests call the shots, or take the lead ourselves.”

Recreational marijuana is already legal in Montana, the state’s western neighbor. Minnesota, to the east, approved recreational use last year.

It’s also legal in 21 other states, according to information from the Tax Foundation.

“In the first quarter of 2023, 10 states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington—generated more revenue from cannabis than from either alcohol (9 states) or tobacco (Washington),” the Tax Foundations said in a report published in December. “Marijuana revenues generated more than one percent of total revenues in five states—Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Washington—in the first quarter of 2023, with marijuana revenues comprising nearly 2 percent of all revenue collected in Colorado.”

Decriminalization of marijuana possession for small amounts would have a positive impact on the state’s criminal justice system, the group said.

“As an attorney, former police officer, and lifelong resident of North Dakota, I have seen how criminalizing cannabis drains resources from law enforcement and clogs our courts,” said Mark Friese, a Fargo-based criminal defense attorney.

The group needs 15,582 signatures by July 8 to get it on the Nov. 5 ballot. The secretary of state must provide a petition title to the group before April 25, according to the office.