Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger outlined concerns his department had with what Measure 3 and the legalization of recreational marijuana means for law enforcement and public safety.
Dassinger expressed his department's support of the democratic will of the people to vote as they see fit, but shared legal concerns and challenges the measure would impart on law enforcement personnel across the state.
"Cities in other states that have legalized marijuana have seen increases in illegal grow operations, public intoxication, and drugged driving," he said pointing to statistics from Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon which showed increases in criminal activity after recreational use legalization. "The crime rate in Colorado has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization. The Colorado Bureau of Criminal Investigations reports an 8.3 percent increase in property crimes and an 18.6 percent increase in violent crimes."
Dassinger emphasized and echoed concerns shared by many law enforcement officers across the state, pointing to the verbiage of the measure as failing to address the legitimate concerns of law enforcement.
"The expungement of past criminal record/convictions in Measure No. 3 does not differentiate if the original marijuana charge was a felony or misdemeanor; nor does it take into account any of the details of the original conviction, such as dealing in or by a school," he said. "These are concerns that I share with other law enforcement officials in the state."
Dassinger's nuanced but firm anti-legalization argument focused on four areas of concern - the potential for increased criminal activity, safety for youth, drugged driving and quality of life.
"The average rate of marijuana use by teens is 30 percent higher in states where marijuana is legalized than the U.S. rate as a whole," Dassinger said. "Law enforcement in other states where marijuana is legal are responding to increased complaints from schools for illegal use and possession of marijuana. In Anchorage, Alaska, school suspensions increased 141 percent from 2015, when legalization was implemented, to 2017."
The concerns expressed by the chief are generally aligned with views expressed by law enforcement and government officials across the country. Having to make sense of all sides of the argument is the North Dakota voter, who must consider the ever growing catalogue of modern research supporting and condemning the recreational use of marijuana-leading many to question how to vote on Measure 3.
"The public needs to be aware of the facts about marijuana so that it can dismiss fictions about the drug's effects. Only by knowing when marijuana presents a real threat and when the risk is minimal can people properly weigh its dangers and benefits in specific situations. Both our health and sound social policy depend on it," Hal Arkowitz and Scott Lilienfeld said in a Scientific American article published about the issue.
If North Dakota legalizes recreational marijuana as currently worded, Dassinger believes the state will see an increase in serious crashes on North Dakota roadways.
"Currently in North Dakota, a person driving under the influence of any drug, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, LSD, etc. does not lose their driver's license, nor is there any negative consequences with regard to the Department of Transportation. Only driving under the influence of alcohol will result in the loss of a person's driver's license," he said. "There is no current means to determine levels of THC (the main high-inducing compound in marijuana) in someone's system as to allow for the ability to develop a DUI matrix for drivers under the influence of marijuana. Marijuana has been known to remain in one's system for 30 or more days."
Dassinger would prefer a system like that established in the states of Colorado, Washington and California, where a person can be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs.
"A drug recognition expert is called to the scene and administers field sobriety tests. The person is taken to the hospital for a urine or blood test and the results sent to the state laboratory. If a person has a nanogram level of 0.05 or greater, they are charged with driving under influence of drugs," Dassinger said. "Data shows an increase in the prevalence of marijuana being detected in fatal crashes in states that have legalization. THC is linked to poor driving performance, delayed response times and an increase risk of being involved in a fatal accident."
The final concerns expressed by the chief were those concerns relating to quality of life.
"The passing of Measure No. 3 will allow people to smoke/use marijuana anywhere; schools, stores, parks and public buildings, unless city ordinances are created to restrict it," he said. "It allows people to grow as many plants as they want and wherever they want, even in residential neighborhoods. Marijuana would no longer be an illegal substance regardless of the amount in possession."
Most alarming for police, Dassinger said, would be that the new measure would repeal neglect and endangerment laws prohibiting use of marijuana in the presence of children.
"No person over 21 will be prosecuted for any non-violent marijuana related activity with exception of selling to an individual under 21," he said. "The measure does not contain a plan to offset the potential impacts recognized by cities and counties."
For more information on Measure 3, or to read the proposal in its entirety, visit https://ballotpedia.org and search for North Dakota Measure 3.