Campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in ND touts potential boon to economy
NORTH DAKOTA—A sea of green began wafting over the United States in 1996 when California legalized medical marijuana. More than 15 states are following suit, that blazed the trail for Colorado to legalize recreational Marijuana in 2012.
Now a grassroots campaign of volunteers is working on raising $2 million to take the Peace Garden State to the next level.
"We want the plant to be treated like your grandmother's marigolds. This is full legalization of adult use for marijuana. That's the use, the sale, any aspect that would have been illegal otherwise is now legal," said Josh Dryer, Legalize ND campaign manager.
The bill would also expunge records for any past marijuana offenses.
"You broke the law, you were given a ten year sentence. If our law passes, you still have to serve out the rest of your sentence. You don't get released early. But when you finally leave prison, your record wiped," said David Owen, Legalize ND chairman.
They say everyone in the state would benefit from the potential economic boost it would bring.
"These small towns are really hurting because of the ag collapse. Everybody likes to talk about the oil collapse is what causes budget shortfalls," Owen said.
FarmDocDaily predicts an acre of corn is worth $710, down from about $840 in 2015. Owen says marijuana plants smoke the competition.
"If you're going conservative, which is always better for budgeting, you're getting about $300,000 an acre. That's a huge difference. Think about what $300,000 an acre really does for this state," Owen said.
Dryer believes the heavy Republican presence won't be an obstacle after what North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer said in a radio interview.
"Certainly from a philosophical standpoint, I don't mind the idea of states making that determination, but I'd be disappointed in mine if we did," Cramer said.
"He's fundamentally opposed to it, but he'll fight for our state's right to have it," Dryer said. "One of the biggest platform ideas behind the Republican philosophy is state's rights. Smaller government, things like that. Let the states run themselves."
Since the oil boom, drug demand went up. Of the 4,382 drug arrests in 2015, about 80 percent of them were for marijuana.
More than 15 percent of North Dakota's high school students used marijuana in 2015, according the state's attorney general.
"There's a lot of people who smoke out there," Dryer said, "there's a market for it, and when there's a market for a product, people are going to buy it. Where are we getting it from? It makes perfect sense that they would have sources in Colorado."
"We're not targeting a specific state, because there is no specific area where somebody is always transporting drugs from," said Capt. Bryan Niewind, North Dakota State Patrol.
One place they do keep a watchful eye is the state's silk road.
"In North Dakota, historically, the largest marijuana seizures come off of I-94," Niewind said. In November of 2017, state patrol seized 286 pounds of marijuana along I-94 in West Fargo, worth about $1,370,000.
It's one of the largest pot busts in state history, the driver was pulled over for speeding.
"Normally, those are traveling through our state, going to a larger metropolitan area. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago or something like that," Niewind said.
Right now, they're just following the law and doing their job. He says if the law changes, so will their job.
Campaigners need just over 13,000 legitimate signatures to put it in the hands of voters this year. Right now, they have roughly 4,000.
A change they hope to put in the hands of voters by getting enough signatures by July 9.
Marijuana was first prohibited federally in 1937.