North Dakota will become the 25th state to eliminate jail time for low-level marijuana possession starting Aug. 1, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Two groups are pushing recreational marijuana even further.

ND for Freedom of Cannabis Act, a sponsoring committee led by Jody Lynn Vetter of Bismarck, had a petition approved for circulation by Secretary of State Al Jaegar on July 22. The petition will need 26,904 signatures by Feb. 10 in order to be eligible for the statewide election on June 9, 2020.

The committee has several members from the area including Anthony Gurrieri, Megan McDonald and Zack Nordstrom from Jamestown, Eric Shuster and Dakota Rose from Carrington, and Johnny Lybrand from Gackle.

The petition is for the creation of a new section to Article 1 of the state’s constitution related to cannabis and would make it legal for an individual age 21 or older to:

  • Possess, use, purchase or transport cannabis, accessories and cannabis-infused products

  • Possess, grow and transport for personal use up to 12 plants, no more than six fully matured, that is not available for sale

  • Consume cannabis not in a public setting

  • Transfer cannabis to minors under 21 years old if medically prescribed by law

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The amendment would require the Legislature to create laws for how to license and regulate commercial cannabis and any citizen in possession of marijuana would be required to first obtain a valid license.

The second group fighting for marijuana legalization, Legalize ND, is working on a second attempt with voters after a 2018 proposal was denied in the election by a margin of 59% to 41%.

“This year’s is far more regulated,” said David Owen, leader of Legalize ND. “There’s a specific control on amounts, no home growing option and there’s a clear tax provision. It’s a much clearer setup.”

Legalize ND’s proposal was written by criminal defense lawyer Scott Brand of West Fargo and is crafted based on past recreational marijuana bills that have passed in 11 other states.

“In terms of legalization, it’s a very state-by-state basis,” Owen said. “Michigan and Oklahoma are good comparisons, but no two marijuana bills are the same.

“After Measure 3 failed, we researched and we crafted the bill in response to what people said, what the public opinion was across the state,” Owen said. “We needed North Dakota based attorneys, and that’s what we have now. We have legislative support.”

Unlike Vetter’s group, Legalize ND will attempt to amend the North Dakota Century Code, rather than the state constitution.

“We don’t think marijuana belongs in the constitution,” Owen said. “Marijuana to me is not a constitutional issue … there’s a lot of things in there that I don’t think should be in there.”

Owen doesn’t look at other petitions as competition, but rather, a different approach to a similar campaign.

“The other group has a way they want to do things, and they are free to do it,” Owen said. “They have a very different vision than me, and they will be in a different election than we will.”

The ballot measure would include:

  • A 2-ounce limit for individuals age 21 older. Marijuana cannot be in the passenger area of a car in an open container and, like alcohol, cannot be consumed in public.

  • Existing penalties for driving impaired would remain.

  • Home growth would be illegal and all marijuana purchases would be required to be from a licensed and state regulated facility.

  • Cities maintain the right to reject and limit stores.

  • Selling to minors would be a Class A misdemeanor.

  • Child-proof containers would be required for amounts over 1 ounce.

  • Limit on advertising and would ban marketing to minors.

  • A three member Marijuana Control Commission would be created and the members would be appointed by the governor. The commission would oversee and act as the sole regulatory authority over stores and manufacturers.

  • Governor may appoint up to 10 members to a Marijuana Advisory Board.

  • On top of state and local taxes, a 10% excise tax would be implemented. The taxes would first cover the state commission costs, followed by 50% to the general fund, 10% to the Legacy Fund, 10% to North Dakota Parks and Recreation and 10% to the Department of Commerce.

  • Employers can still restrict marijuana consumption.

  • Low-level marijuana charges and paraphernalia charges could be expunged from an individual’s record after paying a small fee. Distribution charges would remain.

Legalize ND is in the process of reviewing the petition proposal among the 25 person committee before submitting the document to the Secretary of State's office. If approved, the group will need to obtain 13,452 votes, or 2% of the state population, before June 9 to be eligible for the Nov. 3, 2020, ballot.

“I think it will pass,” Owen said. “I thought the last one would pass, but I think this one will pass.”