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Ballot petition to legalize marijuana in ND approved for circulation

A marijuana plant. REUTERS

BISMARCK — Backers of a proposed measure to legalize marijuana in North Dakota will soon start gathering signatures to try to put it on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Wednesday approved their petition for circulation. Sponsors must gather at least 13,452 signatures of eligible voters by July 11 to put the statutory measure to a statewide vote.

Eric Olson of Fargo, who chairs the 26-member sponsoring committee, said supporters will start collecting signatures right away and he hopes to gather 20,000 "for a safe margin."

If approved, the measure would make it legal for those over age 21 to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana and would prevent the state from requiring a license to do so.

It also would prohibit the state, cities and counties from taxing marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia at more than 20 percent.

Olson originally filed the petition paperwork on Feb. 10 but had to resubmit it because the initial filing referred to state laws that didn't reflect changes made by the 2015 Legislature.

The original petition also would have deleted pot-mimicking drugs known as synthetic cannabinoids from the state's list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, which drew concerns from the state Board of Pharmacy and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem after several years of working to ban the substances. The revised petition leaves those synthetic drugs on the list of controlled substances.

"I feel like that was a huge distraction from the actual issue, so we chose to just remove it," Olson said.

The sponsors intend to rely on volunteers to gather the signatures but will hire paid petition circulators if necessary, he said.

Voters have legalized recreational marijuana use by adults in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Two of North Dakota's three Republican candidates for governor, Stenehjem and Fargo businessman Doug Burgum, said during a debate last week that they oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The other GOP hopeful, state Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, said he would vote to legalize it if it ends up on the ballot.

Sponsors of a separate proposed ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in North Dakota began collecting signatures last fall.