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ND voters snuff out recreational marijuana measure

Bob Wefald, chairman of North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, said he was delighted with Tuesday's vote. He also said he would support an effort at the state Legislature to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana. Forum News Service file photo.1 / 2
Measure 3 co-sponsor Josh Dryer said Tuesday night, Nov. 6, at a Fargo gathering of supporters that he will rewrite the recreational marijuana measure and try again in 2020. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — The recreational marijuana ballot measure in North Dakota went up in smoke on Tuesday, Nov. 6, with voters soundly rejecting the idea.

In complete but unofficial results, the measure failed by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin. All 424 precincts had been reported.

Late Tuesday, supporters of the measure said they weren’t conceding the election, but overnight the remaining untallied votes had been added into the results.

David Owen, chairman of Legalize ND, said “we’ll be back.”

When asked if that meant another ballot measure in two years, he said he hopes it wouldn’t take that, but that rather the state Legislature would address the issue.

Owen said if the wording of the ballot measure needs to be changed “to address people’s concerns, we can do that.”

After approving medical marijuana two years ago by a 64 percent margin, North Dakotans defeated one of the most controversial ballot measures in recent memory as evidenced by the number of groups that were formed to work on its passage or defeat and the interest of voters.

Two major groups were fighting the measure.

Bob Wefald, chairman of North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, said he was “delighted that the people of North Dakota defeated the free-for-all marijuana legislation.

“It would have been a disaster for the state,” said the Bismarck man, who previously was a district court judge and attorney general.

Wefald, however, has said he would support decriminalizing the possession of a small amount of marijuana by residents in the upcoming legislative session.

He also said he would be in favor of cleaning up some of the criminal records of those who have been arrested for small amounts of marijuana through legislation.

At least one legislator, who has been working with lawyers, prosecutors and law enforcement, said she will introduce such a bill in the Legislature starting in January.

State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, who represents a district in southern Fargo, said she will draft the bill with a goal of getting it passed in the upcoming session.

Another group against the measure, Health and Productive North Dakota, had help from a national organization called Smart Approaches to Marijuana that provided about $100,000 in funding.

Chairwoman of that state group, Kristie Spooner, said the help from that organization provided was instrumental in stopping the measure.as they provided valuable advice.

"We're very happy that people understood the risks associated with this measure, " Spooner said.

The chairwoman said the other side fought hard and that her organization supported "people getting help for addiction, rather than getting locked up." She also said she felt that should be an issue in the upcoming legislative session.

Pre-election polls had shown various amounts of support for the measure ranging from about 33 percent in support to 51 in favor.

Cole Haymond, spokesman for Legalize ND, said the race would depend on the turnout of voters, with the hope of more younger voters supporting the measure. It apparently didn’t materialize enough for passage although there were more than 125,000 voters statewide casting ballots in favor. Many of those votes came from the state’s most populous county -- Cass County -- which voted in favor of legalization by a 53 to 46 percent margin, with about 23,000 voters in favor of the measure.

The issue drew national attention as it was the first time a deep red state had voted on the issue, a surprise to many nationwide that it even was on the ballot.

Michigan was also voting on the issue Tuesday, and polls there showed it was headed for approval by a 57 percent to 42 percent margin.

Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.

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