North Dakota Making Moves – Interview with LegalizeND
The usually conservative-leaning North Dakota passing Measure 5 in 2016, and implementing a medical cannabis program for certain conditions was one of the many surprising outcomes of the 2016 election. With an approval percentage of 63.7% and an opposing percentage of 36.3%, the bill passed with a strong majority. On January 3, 2017, North Dakota Senate Bill 2344 enacted the program and specified exactly which conditions qualify and detailed the process of how one would open a medical dispensary.
North Dakota medical marijuana qualifications cover a wide range of conditions. Residents of the state who suffer from these conditions can obtain cannabis from dispensaries, which are known as “compassion centers.” These are the conditions that qualified as of this writing:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Chronic Pain
- Crohn’s Disease
- Failure to Thrive/Cachexia/Wasting Syndrome
- Hepatitis C
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Spinal Stenosis
In the months since the creation of Senate Bill 2344, not a single medicinal dispensary has opened in the entire state. It’s perfectly legal to possess cannabis plants for medical reasons, but no compassion center has been allowed to start business. This is an inconvenience for North Dakotans who could benefit from medical cannabis. Currently, medical marijuana patients either have to learn how to grow cannabis or have to risk committing a federal offense by crossing state lines to purchase their medicine.
North Dakota lawmakers announced that the openings of the eight dispensaries may be delayed until early 2019. Through frustration over the continued delays of medical cannabis, an advocacy group, LegalizeND, sprang into action. They collected almost 19,000 petition signatures (exceeding the 13,452 signature requirement), so recreational cannabis will be on the November ballot assuming all signatures are validated by the Secretary of State.
Started in March of 2017, LegalizeND hopes to make recreational cannabis a reality in the state of 755,000. Without using the services of a single paid petitioner, the legalization advocacy group aims to greatly expand the access of cannabis in North Dakota. They want to see the ND mmj market go from non-existent access to a full recreational market. They would like the ND recreational market to have all marijuana products permitted in the nine states with recreational markets. The group is also advocating for criminal justice reform regarding cannabis. LegalizeND has a particular focus on expungement of previous minor marijuana offenses and certain non-violent marijuana felonies.
LegalizeND Campaign Chair, Dave Owen believes that a recreational market will allow those who didn’t receive medical dispensary licenses in the aftermath of Senate Bill 2344 to have the opportunity to open a recreational shop. Given that they follow the proper procedures, of course. Owen was a petitioner for Measure 5, so petitioning for recreational legalization was his natural next step.
“In true free markets, you have good competition which leads to better products. Better products lead to a healthier and better industry for the consumer,” says Owen. He also brings up an interesting and highly lucrative benefit for the agriculture industry, an industry which brings in billions to the state economy.
“The way this bill is set up, we don’t put a silly 100 plant limit because some farmers here have thousands of acres of land. And the tax revenue of course will be astronomical. And not just tax revenue, but revenue that goes right back to the community.”
“If you’re a farmer in North Dakota and you’re growing corn, you’re making about $700-$800 an acre. If you’re growing marijuana on the other hand, you’re going to make about $300,000 an acre. We can grow corn. We can grow soybean. We can grow potatoes. We can grow wheat.”
Following a brief pause, Owen said, “We can grow cannabis.”
The bill, which requires consumers to be 21, sets in place criminal penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis and selling the plant to minors. These stipulations are on par with the criminal penalty of supplying alcohol to minors. Owen cited the multiple studies from recreationally legalized states which show a decrease in underage cannabis usage. He believes that North Dakota will have similar results.
To gather research on the success of the bill, LegalizeND used a polling service which has previously conducted polls for Fortune 500 companies. They found that North Dakotans poll at 46% approval and 39% disapproval, meaning that North Dakota being a Midwest mecca of marijuana may not be a pipe dream for too much longer. We’ll have to wait to see what happens.