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Pot legalization measure will appear on November ballot in North Dakota

New Approach North Dakota’s proposed measure would legalize the possession and purchase of small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

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Dave Owen, the chairman of marijuana legalization group New Approach North Dakota, stands in front of 31 boxes containing signed petitions on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — A measure to legalize recreational marijuana for adults will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot in North Dakota after clearing a final hurdle.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced on Monday, Aug. 15, that his office validated more than 23,000 signed petitions turned in by the pro-legalization sponsoring group — well over the 15,582 signature threshold.

Jaeger's office rejected about 2,700 signatures turned in by the group, mostly for being incomplete or failing to state an address.

New Approach North Dakota’s proposed measure would legalize the possession and purchase of small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older. The 19-page statutory measure would also allow adult residents to grow limited amounts of cannabis and implement policies to regulate retail marijuana stores.

New Approach ND Chairman Dave Owen told Forum News Service he was thrilled to hear the measure will go to voters.

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“We’re proud of our petitioners and volunteers across the entire state who worked diligently on this to ensure that the people of North Dakota will be allowed to vote on this important issue," Owen said.

The group began collecting signatures in April, and out-of-state donors and medical marijuana dispensaries bankrolled the push with more than $500,000 in political contributions.

The pro-legalization measure will likely be the only one to appear on the statewide ballot after Jaeger's office turned away two other measure-sponsoring groups.

In March, the secretary of state rejected more than 29,000 signatures turned in by a conservative group promoting a measure to set term limits for North Dakota politicians. In May, Jaeger’s office invalidated nearly 6,000 signatures turned in by a separate group aiming to raise the bar for amending the state constitution. Jaeger also alleged both groups broke the law while gathering signatures.

He told Forum News Service there's a possibility he may refer one situation with the pot measure's rejected signatures for further investigation. The Republican officeholder alleged 362 signatures were fraudulently filled out, indicating circulator violations.

North Dakota voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 but rejected a recreational legalization measure backed by Owen in 2018.

Owen said the 2018 measure failed, in part, because it was written as a legalization wishlist. This year’s measure includes stricter regulations and has been pored over by lawyers, he said.

The language of the proposed measure closely mirrors a 2021 bill that passed the Republican-led North Dakota House of Representatives but died in the state Senate.

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Owen said attitudes toward legalization of recreational marijuana have changed in North Dakota, noting several conservative lawmakers said the passage of a legal pot program was inevitable.

He declined to comment on whether the group will aim to raise money before the general election, but he said they will try to campaign throughout the state and hammer home that "it's time for a new approach to cannabis prohibition."

Recreational pot is now legal in 19 states, including Montana, where voters elected to legalize the drug in 2020. A voter-approved legalization measure in South Dakota was deemed unconstitutional last year by the state's Supreme Court.

Read the full text of the ballot measure here:

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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