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Our view: Could Canada's new pot law sway election?

Canadians aren’t viewed as radical. Yet they soon will be legally using marijuana for recreational purposes, and we wonder how it will affect the debate here in North Dakota.

It appears an initiative to legalize marijuana will be on North Dakota’s ballot in November.

The Secretary of State Office reported this week that approximately 18,700 signatures have been gathered by supporters, 5,000 more than the 13,452 required. So it’s very likely it will make its way onto the ballot and from there, voters will decide.

What specifically does the measure seek? To amend the state Constitution and remove marijuana from its current status as a controlled substance.

At present, recreational marijuana use is legal in nine states: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Alaska, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.

On Oct. 17, marijuana will be legal for recreational and medical use in Canada. That it will happen three weeks before North Dakota’s election could be beneficial timing for those who wish to see marijuana legalized here.

As of today, we aren’t included in that group, for myriad reasons. Among them is – and please allow a weak pun – that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

For example, The Associated Press has reported that states with legal marijuana aren’t necessarily reaping the rewards many predicted. The AP reported that California’s legal pot shops are losing customers to the black market, where marijuana is being sold cheaper and not being taxed. There, marijuana has failed to generate anticipated tax revenue; during the first quarter of the year, the state showed $34 million from cultivation and excise taxes, which is well off the pace of the predicted $175 million expected in the first six months.

It appears Canada’s decision to legalize pot won’t just be watched here in North Dakota. A recent story by Time Magazine notes that Congress probably will be paying attention, too.

“If a nation like Canada approves it, sets up a regimen, provides a living laboratory of people right across the border that are a lot like it us, it might help change the perceptions of some skeptics,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told Time.

It might not take much. A Pew Research poll in January showed 61 percent of Americans say recreational marijuana use should be legal. That’s up from 31 percent in 2000.

So will Canada’s decision affect North Dakotans’ attitude as they go to the polls?

It could happen. The reason marijuana isn’t legal in states like North Dakota is because people here generally are morally conservative -- same as most Canadians, we figure. In fact, Canadians may be more like North Dakotans than any other people in the world.

Legalizing marijuana may only be a matter of time, considering America’s changing attitudes, the number of people who signed North Dakota’s petition, and also what’s happening north of border.