McFeely: N.D. might stand side-by-side with coastal elites on marijuana

Maybe marijuana is the one thing that can bring this divided country together again, uniting the coasts with the heartland, the urban with the rural, the Democrats with the Republicans.

Maybe marijuana is the one thing that can bring this divided country together again, uniting the coasts with the heartland, the urban with the rural, the Democrats with the Republicans.

If the good folks of North Dakota need to find something in common with the crazy liberals of California or the big-city swamp creatures of Washington, D.C. -- people and regions residents of the Flickertail State seem to view with contempt and distrust -- it might just turn out to be weed.

Can we call it the Great Ganja Get-Together? Maybe it’ll mellow out everybody, from East Coast to Left Coast and everywhere in between..

Here’s what’s happening: North Dakota, among the most conservative and most Trumpy states in the union where “traditional” values reign and residents seem to like the idea the president is trying to turn back the clock to the halcyon days of Ward and June Cleaver, appears one giant leap closer to full-blown, no-holds-barred legalization of recreational marijuana.

How crazy is this to those who’ve spent decades watching the state drag itself into the 21st century on a number of cultural issues? If voters approve a measure that will likely be on the statewide ballot in November, a retail business could grow and sell marijuana but it couldn’t open until after noon on Sundays because of the state’s antiquated blue laws that date to the 1800s. Talk about centuries colliding.

Advocates of legal weed turned in about 18,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office this week, providing a thick cushion over the 13,452 needed to get the measure on the ballot. It is very likely North Dakotans will be voting to fully legalize marijuana.

The Washington Post reported that Legalize ND, the campaign behind recreational marijuana, conducted a poll in February showing 46 percent of the state’s residents support the measure while 39 percent oppose it. Fifteen percent are undecided.

It appears there’s a good chance recreational marijuana could be full-blown legal for those over 21 in North Dakota.

North Dakota! A state that glows red as Rudolph’s nose and has voted for one Democratic presidential candidate (Lyndon Johnson in 1964) since 1936.

North Dakota would join only nine other states and the District of Columbia, and the measure, at least as voted on, will be the most liberal in the country. No licensing, no permitting, unlimited home growing, unlimited agricultural growing, unlimited personal possession, unlimited sale.

It would be, pardon the well-worn phrase, reefer madness. It’s assumed the North Dakota Legislature would attempt to put some regulatory controls in place

But take a look at the other states that have legalized recreational marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- mostly coastal states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Add Washington, D.C., one of the most liberal and diverse areas in the nation. Alaska is the exception politically, and like North Dakota votes Republican with a wide libertarian streak.

Is it too soon to accuse North Dakotans of coastal elitism?

David Owen of Grand Forks, chairman of Legalize ND, believes marijuana’s support in the state is less about politics than pragmatism. He points out that polls show a strong majority of Americans support legalization, Gallup says 64 percent, regardless of political leanings or geography.

“I think people are seeing that it works,” he said on my 970 WDAY radio show. “They can see their neighbors to the north in Canada and they’re seeing no problems there. They are seeing states on the West Coast, states on the East Coast, Colorado … and they are seeing all the tax revenue and they are seeing a great opportunity.”

Owen believes a wide swath of North Dakota interests can support weed -- agriculture, libertarians, Democrats, young voters. He said he’s been calling state legislators in both chambers and doesn’t hear much opposition.

There is also this constituency that might help Owen’s cause: Those who will vote for full legalization as a way to slap the Legislature for slow-walking and reshaping the medical marijuana bill passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2016.

“There’s a lot of reasons for people to like this bill, and there’s not a big reason to oppose it,” Owen said.

North Dakota, standing side-by-side with the libs in California, Oregon, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Who would’ve thought it?

Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5379