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Poll: Southwest North Dakota voters waning on recreational marijuana support

2022 poll results showed marked change over the intervening years since marijuana was last on the ballot. Less than 40% said they supported legalizing recreational marijuana.

Marijuana
A vast selection of medical and recreational cannabis on display at a retail store.
Zenkyphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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DICKINSON — A marijuana legalization measure will appear on the ballot this November, and a southwest North Dakota readers poll conducted throughout the month of July indicates that support for legalizing recreational marijuana on the Western Edge has waned since the measure was last on the ballot.

The poll asked readers, “Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced that North Dakota voters will decide this fall whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Do you support the legalization of recreational Marijuana?”

A similarly worded poll in 2018, when the state voted on Measure 3, saw southwestern North Dakotans favor the measure 60% to 40%. Measure 3 would eventually fail at the polls by a vote of 59% to 41%.

The 2022 poll results showed marked change over the intervening years on public perception in the western part of the state on recreational marijuana. Of the votes, 39% voted “Yes, it's about time,” 18% were apathetic to the measure saying, “I don't care either way,” and 43% voted “No. I don't think anyone should be able to recreationally use marijuana.”

The initiative was filed by 2020 Libertarian state Senate candidate Jody Vetter on January 11, 2021. On August 15, Jaeger confirmed the validity of more than 23,000 signatures for the measures — well above the required 15,582 needed for the measure to appear on the ballot.

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According to reporting on the subject, the measure would permit those over the age of 21 to possess, grow, process or transport up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as small quantities of its variations such as THC oils and edibles.

Members of the state’s General Assembly would have until October 1, 2023 to establish a regulatory structure and agency to oversee that, possibly under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The initiative would limit North Dakota to a maximum of 18 retail dispensaries and seven production facilities, according to the verbiage of the measure. It also restricts how many of these entities can be owned by a single individual or entity in an effort to prevent monopolization of the marijuana marketplace.

A 2021 Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans favored marijuana legalization. The Press’ poll aligns more closely with the attitudes of Republicans nationwide. The Gallup poll showed the Republicans split with 50% in favor, 49% opposed and 1% apathetic.

Vicky Steiner
Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson.
Contributed / ND Legislative Council

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-37, of Dickinson, said that although she personally opposes the measure, she will respect the will of the voters.

“Medicinal (marijuana), if it helps people with their illness that’s one thing. But it worries me that if it's recreational that it could be abused by children, that it could get in the hands of minors more easily, it's going to be more difficult to police,” Steiner said. “I think adults can make decisions for themselves… I just don't want it to impact the health of the children.”

She expressed other concerns about public safety and the possibility of more impaired drivers getting behind the wheel.

The CDC reports that THC, the psychoactive compound of marijuana, slows a driver’s reaction time, hand-eye coordination and judgment.

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Sen. Dick Dever, R-32, of Bismarck, said he also opposes legalization noting that many business interests such as the Petroleum Council and ND Chamber of Commerce shared his position when the measure was on the ballot in 2016, citing concerns of workforce development.

Dick Dever
Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck.
Contributed / ND Legislative Council

“Another complication is workforce safety. OSHA will not provide worker’s compensation to those who are under the influence,” Dever said. “Legally, there's other complications too. How do you determine whether somebody is under the influence? It’s not like alcohol, where you can measure the blood alcohol and marijuana stays in your system for 30 days.”

Dever said that if the measure does succeed he hopes to regulate levels of THC content in marijuana, which he pointed out has increased substantially over the decades.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council, who were active in fighting the measure in 2018, have confirmed that they will not fight the 2022 pot legalization efforts. Ron Ness, president of the NDPC, said the decision was a matter of resource management and that the council did not have the resources to engage in a substantial opposition to the measure.

Ness, in interviews with the media, said that one in five North Dakota jobs are directly or indirectly tied to the state’s oil industry and that the majority of those jobs require drug testing. The NDPC said they were concerned that legalization of marijuana could negatively impact the already burdened employment pool in the state.

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Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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