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North Dakota should make it official with recreational marijuana: Vote to approve

Times are quickly changing. Today, 19 states have legalized recreational marijuana. Canada — the entire country — also now says it’s OK to possess and use marijuana recreationally.

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In 2018, North Dakotans voted against legalizing recreational marijuana. Back then, the measure failed 59% to 41%.

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Times are quickly changing. Today, 19 states have legalized recreational marijuana. Canada — the entire country — also now says it’s OK to possess and use marijuana recreationally.

So when North Dakotans revisit the proposal on Nov. 8, how should they vote? We say vote “yes,” and finally make official what so many people across the world already are recognizing: that marijuana should be a legal substance, just like alcohol, for those 21 and older. It also should be regulated and taxed, which isn’t happening now.

This is an issue that North Dakotans discuss often. It lost in 2018 in the statewide ballot, of course, but then in 2019, Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession in the state.

Legalization lost again when it was brought up in the 2021 session of the state Legislature. HB 1420 would have created a legalized marijuana program and allowed adults over age 21 to possess and use marijuana products. It passed in the state House of Representatives 56-38 but failed in the Senate, 37-10.

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We don’t put much credence in the legislative vote, since we believe some lawmakers are, at heart, OK with the idea but perhaps don’t want their names attached to something that could stir controversy. Even as the measure lost, some lawmakers noted the inevitability of legalization not far down the road.

We also believe legal recreational marijuana is coming to North Dakota and suggest the state’s residents keep an open mind.

Proponents believe legalization will:

  • Lower street crime and take business away from drug dealers.
  • Actually make marijuana products safer, via standardization, testing and packaging.
  • And add to the economy by bringing a taxable product to the market. If it’s taxed at a statewide rate of 5% and locally at 3%, the taxes will add up. And it should come with some sort of “sin tax,” much like states add for things like cigarettes and alcohol.

Importantly, North Dakota must get to work to determine just how much new revenue could be coming to the state, where that new revenue will land, and also how much recreational marijuana will cost the state in terms of management, education programs and so on.
Not enough has yet been done to give voters a firm understanding of the financial implications of recreational marijuana. Whereas we believe legalization is coming down the pike, it’s important to have guardrails set up to ease that inevitable implementation.

We know the arguments against legalization, such as concerns about enforcement, impaired driving and so on. But these concerns exist now, since many people already are using marijuana – potentially more than ever as nearby states are legalizing it and after North Dakota decriminalized possession in 2019.

The nation has bigger concerns than worrying about marijuana use. Overdose deaths — mostly from opioids — numbered more than 150 last year in North Dakota. Meth continues to make its way into the state.

Let’s focus on those crimes, and let marijuana users consume that product in peace — albeit a peace that is regulated, taxed and well planned.

The endorsement represents the opinion of Forum Communications Co. management.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2022MARIJUANA
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