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Group out to legalize marijuana in North Dakota

FARGO--Eric Olson wants North Dakotans to vote on legalizing pot. "There's not really any justification for banning marijuana in the first place, and I think the majority of the population realizes that at this point," the 32-year-old from Fargo ...

FARGO--Eric Olson wants North Dakotans to vote on legalizing pot.

"There's not really any justification for banning marijuana in the first place, and I think the majority of the population realizes that at this point," the 32-year-old from Fargo said. "But our legislators are very slow to do anything about it."

Instead of waiting, Olson and a 27-member sponsoring committee filed a petition with the secretary of state's office seeking to put the issue to a statewide vote this year.

"Somebody had to do it," he said.

The petition seeks to make it legal to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana for those over age 21.

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The petition also would prevent the state from requiring a license to grow, use or distribute marijuana.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said in a news release that his office received the petition Wednesday. Jaeger's office could approve the petition as early as Feb. 18.

If approved, the committee would need to gather 13,452 signatures by July 11 to put it to a statewide vote in the November general election.

Olson listed several reasons why marijuana should be legal:

- Marijuana is medicinal, and claims that it is unsafe are "entirely baseless";

- Banning marijuana is a violation of personal liberty;

- The so-called war on drugs is a "financial disaster" and enables organized crime;

- The state of North Dakota, facing a $1 billion deficit, could make some money by taxing legal marijuana.

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In North Dakota, marijuana possession is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Last year, the state Legislature lowered the charge for possession of marijuana paraphernalia from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor to make them more consistent.

Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults. Twenty states, including Minnesota, have decriminalized it. Medical marijuana became legal in Minnesota last year.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said he is planning to research the issue over the next few months.

But he said that his impression is that legalization has been bad for the states that have opted for it.

"The addiction issues, the crime issues that have come out of it, I think speak for themselves," he said.

"I'm not educated enough to go into specifics," Laney said. "In talking to the law enforcement that I have ... they're not liking what they're seeing."

He said he considers recreational and medical marijuana uses to be "completely separate" issues.

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Laney said he has never tried marijuana. When he was growing up, he watched people use it and "they acted like they were fried," he said. "I just told myself, I will never ever put myself in that position."

In a story about a study that reviewed 20 years of research on the health effects of marijuana use, primarily among heavy users, the Washington Post reported:

- Marijuana is far less addictive than tobacco, alcohol and other drugs;

- Whether pot reduces IQ is contested;

- Some studies link marijuana use to the use of harder drugs, while many researchers say tobacco is more of a "gateway drug";

- Pregnant women should not use marijuana;

- Driving while under the influence of marijuana is unsafe, though not as dangerous as drunken driving;

- People can't overdose from marijuana;

- Marijuana use could impair respiratory function.

Olson said he wanted his proposed ballot measure to be "very simple." It would strike state laws that prohibit marijuana.

"I left how the tax is done up to the state, so it's their call," he said. "There's no politics."

Several members of the state's Libertarian Party, including Olson, are on the petition's sponsoring committee. But Olson said "we do have Democrats and Republicans on there too."

He said the petition is one that all kinds of people, regardless of their preferred party, can get behind.

"They should vote for it if they believe that people should be free to choose their own lifestyle without the government babysitting them. They should vote for it if they think it's not right to imprison people over a plant," he said.

Olson said his knowledge of marijuana comes from personal use in the past and substantial research on the subject.

He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. House as a libertarian in 2012 and said he will likely run for state treasurer with the Libertarian Party this year.

Members of the petition's sponsoring committee include Anthony Mangnall, the state's Libertarian Party chairman; Joshua Voytek of Fargo, the party's endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor; and Robert "Jack" Seaman, the party's candidate for U.S. House.

The petition is separate from an effort to legalize medical marijuana in North Dakota through the initiated measure process.

Related Topics: AL JAEGER
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