Will Recreational Cannabis Legalization Work for North Dakota?


Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug. Federal law says it’s dangerous and has a high risk of addiction.

But, the conversation is changing, and as of 2019, 11 states and the District of Columbia have fully legalized it. And the discussion is happening right here in North Dakota.

With the circulation of an initiated measure that would legalize recreational cannabis, state lawmakers sat down to begin the process of answering the question: Is it feasible in North Dakota?

Citizen and legalization supporter Chris Nolden shares, “People overwhelmingly want legalization in some form. Prohibition ruins lives. Cannabis saves lives.”

Republican North Dakota Representative Terry Jones shares, “I’m a supporter of medical marijuana for the benefits that the cannabis plant can provide for people that have medical needs. But I’m absolutely opposed to recreational marijuana because of the effects I’ve seen it have on people.”

The legislative management committee began the debate, alongside law enforcement, the Department of Corrections, health officials and advocates.

The biggest concerns: How will it affect our kids and their risk for addiction? Will we have more DUIs? And, is law enforcement properly equipped to test for it?”

Rep. Jones adds, “My son that’s in the medical field says that there is almost no addiction involved with medical marijuana, but I’m curious if there is addiction numbers with youth with recreational marijuana.”

Karmen Hanson from the National Conference of State Legislatures presented an unbiased view of how this has worked out in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.

While the data shows that youth usage rates have remained relatively the same, and overall DUIs have decreased, she says these statistics are to be taken with a grain of salt because they’re so young.

Nolden explains, “The problem with data is that we’re only willing to accept a very small scope of FDA approved studies. Obviously with a Schedule 1 that becomes an issue. Researchers can’t even get the product to study it properly.”

Hanson says five to 10 years down the road, we’ll know a lot more.

Rep. Jones shares, “I’m disappointed that we can’t get good statistics that tell us the social impacts, the tax revenue versus the cost to society. All those things I was hoping to get.”

The chairperson for the initiated measure, the North Dakota Freedom of Cannabis Act, presented the text to lawmakers today. And Legalize ND announced another measure for lawmakers to look over in the coming months.

Nolden says, “It would be nice if our lawmakers would figure out a way to do this and do it right, without having to be forced by the people through initiated measures all the time. It’d be nice if the representatives listened to the people, sat down at the big boy table and had the talk.”

This discussion was just the beginning. The committee will begin working to answer the questions put before them, leading up to the 2021 legislative session.

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