North Dakota REC Push Faces Long Odds

By Hilary Corrigan
May 22, 2020

An initiative from Legalize ND faces an uphill battle to collect signatures and get REC on the November ballot in North Dakota.

“We were right on track before COVID hit,” said David Owen, the group’s chairman.

He expected they could have collected thousands more signatures from events such as a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, biker rally, metal concert and the state fair. Like other ballot initiatives across the U.S., signature collectors stopped work when the pandemic hit. They have started again now, wearing masks and gloves and carrying sanitizer. They collect in public places, but do not go door-to-door.

Owen doubts they’ll get the approximately 13,500 total signatures required by early July. The group has between 4,000 and 4,500 signatures now. He said they will likely shoot for their next chance, in 2022.

North Dakota’s current MED allows patients to get cannabis from dispensaries with a doctor’s recommendation. The program has a list of qualifying conditions. 

The proposal would allow REC for those who are at least 21 years old. A three-member commission similar to an alcohol control board would oversee retailers and manufacturers. The governor would appoint the three members. Cities would have the right to limit or reject retail stores.

Besides existing state and local taxes, a 10% excise tax would fund the commission and contribute to the state’s general fund, health services, education department and parks, among other areas.

‘So much uncertainty’

With uncertainty over the election process this year from the pandemic, Owen is not sure it would pass if it did make the ballot.

“We rely on youth turnout. We rely on an energized base. We rely on last-minute voters,” he said. “There’s just so much uncertainty right now.”

The pandemic has battered ballot initiatives all over the country, as signature collectors entered the spring season when warmer weather and public events full of possible supporters could have furthered their causes. Cannabis ballot initiatives in various states continue, with different expectations on whether they will appear in the election.

Whether or not the North Dakota REC push succeeds, that state wants the industry to have banking access. This week, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican, signed onto a bipartisan joint letter from a group of attorneys general calling for Congress to include cannabis banking access in COVID relief legislation. Besides North Dakota’s, the attorneys general of 30 other states and the District of Columbia, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands also signed.