FARGO — The group promoting the legalization of recreational marijuana in North Dakota has released its new version of a ballot measure they hope to put to voters in the fall of 2020.
David Owen, leader of Legalize ND and Grand Forks resident, said the measure addresses some of the concerns their group heard after the 2018 measure was defeated by state voters by a 59% to 41% margin.
The new proposal, which will be reviewed for the next two weeks by its sponsoring committee of 25 state residents and then voted on, will put limits on possession of marijuana, ban the growing of marijuana by residents and establish an excise tax of 10 percent on marijuana sold at regulated and licensed retail stores.
Owen said many thought the last ballot measure was "too vague" and failed to provide enough regulations. The new 20-page proposal, written by West Fargo criminal defense lawyer Scott Brand, is a combination of regulations drawn from recreational marijuana measures approved so far in 11 states.
Although the ballot measure won't be 20 pages, Owen said a summary would be written by Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office. He added that residents would have more than a year to read and see what was all included in the new measure.
Before it gets to the ballot, however, 13,452 valid signatures would again have to be gathered from state residents and verified by Jaeger's office. Owen said they hope to have petitions out by August.
Some of the highlights of the new bill include:
- A possession limit of two ounces of marijuana, and the product couldn't be in an open container in the passenger area of a vehicle. Possession of smaller amounts of hashish and marijuana smoking paraphernalia would be allowed.
- Banning sales to persons under 21 years of age.
- A ban on growing marijuana for personal use; instead state-regulated facilities or manufacturing plants would grow a "safe product" that would be for sale at retail stores.
- Existing penalties would remain in place for persons driving while impaired by marijuana.
- Selling or delivering marijuana to "persons under 21 or an incompetent or obviously intoxicated person" would result in a Class A misdemeanor.
- Cities could reject and limit retail stores in their communities.
- No person could have more than 1 ounce in their home unless it was secured by a lock to prevent underage problems.
- No person could consume marijuana in a public place or smoke marijuana where smoking tobacco is prohibited.
- Workplaces could still enforce policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees.
- A three-member Marijuana Control Commission, with no political party in the majority, would oversee the general supervision, licensing authority and be the sole regulatory authority over marijuana retail stores and manufacturers. The governor would appoint the three members.
- The governor may also create and appoint a Marijuana Advisory Board of no more than 10 members to make recommendations on the regulation of marijuana and accessories.
- Sellers or stores would be required to test marijuana products to prevent contaminants that could be injurious to the residents and adopt health and safety rules.
- Edible products would be allowed, but would have to be in child-resistant containers and could not contain an additive designed to make the product more appealing to children.
- Any advertising or marketing would be regulated by the commission with targeting of persons under 21 prohibited.
- The excise tax of 10 percent on retail products would be charged at the point of sale, with stores required to file monthly forms and payments to the state. State and local sales taxes would also be collected above the excise tax.
- All tax revenue from sales would first be allocated to sustain the commission. Excess tax revenue would be allocated with 50% to the general fund, 10% to Health and Human Services for use in addiction treatment programs, 10% to Department of Education, 10% to the Legacy Fund, 10 percent to North Dakota Parks and Recreation and 10 percent to Department of Commerce for workforce development.
Owen said the sponsoring committee will be voting on the proposal and some changes could be made.
He said Brand continues to work with an expert to determine final wording about expunging marijuana convictions from a person's record. Owen said it likely would require expunging the conviction of any person that had possessed less than two ounces of marijuana, similar to the new possession limits in the proposed law. He said dealers or those possessing more than two ounces would still have the conviction on their records.
While Legalize ND works on the plans, two other factors are in play in the marijuana discussion. One is that another group is proposing a constitutional amendment to end the prohibition of marijuana in the state and the other is a new state law taking effect Aug. 1 to lower charges for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.
John Bailey, chairperson of the 37-member sponsoring committee for the constitutional measure, said in a phone interview Sunday night, June 30, that they are "absolutely" going to resubmit their proposal to Jaeger and seek petition signatures to put their constitutional amendment on the ballot after his group withdrew an earlier submission to Jaeger so it could be rewritten.
Bailey said he "didn't see a problem" with the two measures possibly being on the ballot.
"I don't think they are in competition as one is constitutional and the other is a ballot measure," he said.
Owen simply said in response Sunday night that their group is not affiliated whatsoever with the constitutional organization. "We have two different goals," he said.
Under the law, people caught with less than a half-ounce of marijuana would face an infraction, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000. Marijuana possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor with maximum penalties of 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine.
An official representing county prosecutors previously said in practice, courts have already been "slapping people on the hands" for small amounts of marijuana with fines of about $200 and no jail time for first offenses.
The new law, however, also bumps up penalties for possessing more than 500 grams, or just over a pound, of marijuana to a Class A misdemeanor, which Fargo Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones said is consistent with current law. Roers was trying for a bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana to possibly head off another ballot measure, but her efforts fell just short in the House, prompting Owen and his group to attempt another ballot measure.
North Dakota lawmakers have also agreed to study the implications of legalizing recreational marijuana. They will be meeting several times in the coming year or more.