Marijuana measure sponsors must resubmit petition after using old law, Stenehjem, pharmacy board director concerned that measure would also legalize pot-related synthetics

BISMARCK - Backers of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana in North Dakota made an error in their petition submitted Wednesday, and the state's chief law enforcement officer said their proposal to legalize pot-related synthetic drugs a...

BISMARCK – Backers of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana in North Dakota made an error in their petition submitted Wednesday, and the state’s chief law enforcement officer said their proposal to legalize pot-related synthetic drugs also is a big mistake.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and the head of the state Board of Pharmacy expressed concern Thursday that, in addition to legalizing natural marijuana, the measure would delete synthetic cannabinoids from the list of Schedule 1 drugs after several years of efforts to outlaw the substances.

“We all know the abuse and risk to the public is pretty strong on those substances,” pharmacy board Executive Director Mark Hardy said. “We’d certainly have strong concern with that.”

Sponsors need to gather 13,452 signatures by July 11 to put the initiated measure to a statewide vote in November.

If approved, it would make it legal for those over age 21 to grow, possess, use and distribute marijuana and would prevent the state from requiring a license to do so.


The measure also would bar the state, cities and counties from taxing marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia at more than 20 percent.

A review of the language Thursday revealed that the list of Schedule 1 drugs didn’t include a number of substances added by the 2015 Legislature.

“They’re going to have to redo that,” said Lee Ann Oliver, election specialist in Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office.

Eric Olson of Fargo, who chairs the 28-member sponsoring committee, said he couldn’t recall when he pulled the Schedule 1 statute from the state’s website. He said he was unaware that it didn’t reflect last year’s changes to the Schedule 1 list of cannabinoids, which was already two pages long.

The committee will resubmit the petition with the updated law, he said.

As for removing the synthetic cannabinoids, Olson said it wasn’t the intent to legalize the drugs found in high-inducing incenses targeted by law enforcement in recent years.

“Not that I think that prohibition was particularly useful,” he added. “The entire market for that was created because they banned marijuana in the first place.”

Olson said removing the synthetic drugs from the list is “kind of a null point to me, anyway.”


“I don’t think that there’s really going to be a market for the synthetics when the real thing is available anyway. I didn’t see a reason to leave it in there,” he said.

The pharmacy board issued an emergency rule in February 2010 to ban mind-altering chemicals that were being used to create synthetic versions of illegal street drugs. The 2011 Legislature codified the rule into law, and subsequent legislatures have updated and broadened the list as lawmakers and the state crime lab try to keep up with manufacturers’ ever-changing formulas.

Stenehjem, who is seeking the Republican Party’s endorsement for governor, called the synthetic drugs “dangerous” and said he’s “very much” opposed to removing them from the list. He also opposes legalizing marijuana, which voters have done in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

“This will not be a healthier, safer state if we go the route Colorado and Washington have gone,” he said. “And eliminating the synthetics is irresponsible, and I just have to question if that’s really what they intend to do.”

State Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, who also is seeking the GOP nod for governor, said he supports decriminalizing marijuana to an infraction so violators can’t be imprisoned for it. Twenty states have decriminalized pot, including Minnesota, which also legalized medical marijuana last year.

“Legalizing it entirely is not in my platform, but if the people speak and that’s what they want, I would support that,” Becker said.

The other GOP hopeful, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum, said he is open to decriminalization of marijuana. As for full legalization, he said he’s “open to reading the language on recreational use.”

“But again, there is a responsibility, whether it’s health and safety, taxation, everything else we do with food and beverages, some of those rules should probably apply, as well,” he said.


Democrats have no announced candidate for governor.

The North Dakota Libertarian Party, which also has no gubernatorial candidate, released a statement Thursday saying the petition has the party’s full support.

Party chairman Tony Mangnall called it “long overdue.”

“Enforcement of marijuana laws has ruined lives, cost the taxpayers of North Dakota millions, and is an insult to dignity of free people,” he said.

Last fall, a separate sponsoring committee began collecting signatures to try to put a measure legalizing medical marijuana on the November 2016 general election ballot. They also had to revise their petition after initially filing incomplete paperwork.

State lawmakers last year defeated bills to legalize medical marijuana and study the issue.

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