MINOT, N.D. -- There is a very large faction of North Dakotans who want marijuana legalized for recreational use.
After approving medical marijuana in 2016, over 132,000 voters - more than 40% of turnout - voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018.
Not a majority, but certainly a strong minority. Something for activists to build on.
Lawmakers made little progress on this issue during their session earlier this year, so the hope among pro-marijuana activists in the state was to put a legalization measure on the 2020 ballot which could draw a larger coalition of voters.
Those hopes may have run aground on the jagged rocks of a problem common to volunteer political movements.
North Dakota’s marijuana activists seem to be fracturing, with accusations and aspersions flying in all directions.
Legalize ND, as the campaign behind Measure 3 is called, has been working on developing a new measure for the 2020 ballot. A spokesman for the group, David Owen, told me during an interview on my podcast the new measure will make serious concessions to win over more voters.
It hasn’t been finalized yet, but Owen said it will limit marijuana production. It will prohibit home-grown marijuana. Regulations such as permitting and track-and-trace rules would be implemented. Local communities could opt out of legalization if they wish, and the measure will not touch the issue of expunging the records of past marijuana offenders.
The last was a feature of Measure 3, and a complicating factor leading many people who believe in legalization to ultimately vote against it.
I don’t know if these concessions will be enough to win over a majority of North Dakota voters, they’re headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, these concessions have also caused some state marijuana activists to break from Legalize ND.
A group of them have begun trashing Owen on social media, calling him a “politician” who is out for himself and not the cause.
Some of that faction submitted a proposed constitutional amendment to the secretary of state’s office, though they withdrew it less than 24 hours later citing a desire to make unspecified changes to its language.
John Bailey, chairman of the committee backing the measure, told me the group plans to re-submit their measure soon.
What did submit would have, if passed, created a constitutional right to grow, sell, and use marijuana in all forms.
It also would have created a mandate for the Legislature to fund research into growing and using marijuana.
Owen told me he sees this measure as no threat to his own efforts. “They aren’t going to be competition,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think they’ll even get enough signatures to put their measure on the ballot.
He could be right on that last, but in a larger sense if the pro-marijuana movement is fracturing, it doesn’t portend good things for the cause of legalization.
Political movements win by adding to their coalitions, not subtracting from them.
Infighting among marijuana activists makes success for any of them far less likely.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.