The Roughrider State is heading towards a legalization policy reform after a recent campaign surpassed the required signatures to appear on the November ballot.
A ballot measure that would legalize recreational cannabis in North Dakota had successfully submitted 25,762 signatures. If passed, the measure would require the state to establish and implement an adult-use cannabis program to allow for the production and processing of cannabis and the sale of adult-use cannabis products to an individual who is 21 years of age and older.
While things seem to be looking up for North Dakota recreational market, the finish line is still far ahead.
NEW APPROACH NORTH DAKOTA 2022 STATUTORY INITIATIVE
Backers of the campaign for the statutory legalization initiative, New Approach North Dakota, had announced in July 11 that they have turned in 25,762 signatures to North Dakota’s Secretary of State’s office to qualify the referendum for the state’s November 2022 ballot. The total signatures submitted is about 10,000 signatures more than the 15,582 required signatures to qualify for ballot.
The measure would legalize the possession of 1 ounce of cannabis, up to 4 grams of concentrate and up to 500 milligrams in an infused product, and the cultivation of up to 3 plants. The measure would also require the Department of Health and Human Services, or another department or agency designated by the state legislature, to establish an adult-use cannabis program to regulate the production and distribution of adult-use marijuana by October 1, 2023. Under the measure, the department could license seven cultivation facilities and 18 cannabis retailers. Marijuana would be taxed at the state’s 5% sales tax rate.
Although this victory seems too early to call for a celebration, it is worth to take note as North Dakota is historically having one of the highest marijuana arrests rates in the nation, with the state having among the lowest reported marijuana use of any state.
Along with North Dakota, campaigns submitted signatures for marijuana legalization initiatives targeting the November ballot in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
NORTH DAKOTA’S LEGISLATIVE HISTORY
North Dakota’s history of cannabis prohibition goes back to 1933, when the state passed a bill outlawing the plant, the same year Oklahoma made it illegal and South Dakota in 1931. Many decades later, in 2016, North Dakota voters approved Measure 5, the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, establishing a medical program for their state, including the removal of a provision allowing medical users to grow. It authorized medical sale the following year, but it took the North Dakota Legislative Assembly two years to create the regulations.
A failed attempt to establish a medical framework succeeded the 2016 win in 2015, when the House Bill 1430 was voted down in February that year. Following the failure of the bill, Fargo resident Rillie Ray Morgan began the process of preparing a ballot initiative to legalize medical cannabis for the 2016 general election.
In 2017, North Dakota legislators prohibited home cultivation of medical cannabis, which voters supported in the ballot initiative. The legislation also extended legal protections to patients, caregivers, and medical-type businesses. On April 18, 2018, the North Dakota Department of Health established and implemented a medical program to allow production, processing, sale, dispensing, and medical use by qualifying caregivers. In May 2019, Pure Dakota LLC and Grassroots Cannabis were selected to run the two manufacturing facilities allowed under the program’s rules. As of July 10, 2018, the North Dakota Department of Health has opened an application window for medical dispensary licenses in the Bismark and Fargo areas.
2018 marks the state’s attempt for recreational legalization when North Dakota residents voted on an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana at the same time as the 2018 midterms. However, the recreational referendum failed when the measure was rejected 59% to 41%.
A major milestone was achieved in May 2019 when Governor Doug Burgum signed HB 1050, reducing possession penalties by eliminating the threat of jail time for adults for possessing up to half an ounce of cannabis. The law reclassified possession of up to 0.5 ounces and paraphernalia to a criminal infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and no jail time for first time offenders. The bill also reduced penalties for possession of larger amounts.
At the same time, Gov. Burgum signed HB 1417, a bill that allows medical patients with debilitating cancer higher purchase limit in a month as long as their medical card stated a larger amount. Following the signing of HB 1519 to expand the list of debilitating medical conditions for medical card owner-patients.
2020 saw an effort to legalize recreational use in North Dakota for those 21 and older through The North Dakota Freedom of Cannabis Act. The act would allow North Dakotans to grow a small number of plants personally, but specifically ban public consumption. The measure required a minimum of 27,000 valid signatures, but the sponsoring committee was about 3,000 short. Two groups, namely ND for Freedom of Cannabis Act and Legalize ND, attempted to put legalization measures on June 2020 Primary and the November 2020 elections, but were thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2021, the North Dakota legislature began the process of legalizing recreational cannabis to prevent an initiated legalization from appearing on the 2022 ballot. However, the bill was rejected in the state senate, which led to the attempt to place legalization on the ballot in 2022.
A SLOW START FOR NORTH DAKOTA’S MEDICAL MARKET
Limited access, temporary closure of Fargo’s dispensary and general complications from the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges to North Dakota’s medical market. However, in 2020, nearly 15 months after medical sales began in March 2019, about 3,000 patients (0.4% of the state’s population) were registered in Roughrider State’s medical program.
It was deemed that North Dakota faced a slow adoption due to several reasons:
- Many medical patients were living far away from the eight cities in North Dakota where medical dispensaries exist
- Flower, which was initially allowed only safter specific authorizations by a health-care providers, was sold alongside other types of medical products without provisions.
- The Covid-19 pandemic affected the medical market, causing operation challenges to dispensaries, such as The Botanist in Fargo, the second largest city in North Dakota to shut down.
- Biannual license fees for cultivators and dispensaries are $110,000 and $90,000, respectively – among the highest in the nation.
IS CANNABIS LEGAL IN NORTH DAKOTA? IF NOT, WHEN?
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in the Peace Garden State. Medical marijuana, however, is legal for qualified patients.
North Dakota has decriminalized possession with small amounts: Less than 0.5 ounces as a first offense is considered a criminal infraction with a penalty of no jail time and a fine up to $1,000. Possession of 0.5 ounces to 500 grams and Ingesting is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500.
The path towards adult-use recreational market in North Dakota is still a long one. But with the recent new laws taking effect in South Dakota in July 2022, one could only hope that it will not be too long for the Roughrider State to achieve another winning milestone.
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