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North Dakota pot legalization group turns in more than 25K signatures

New Approach North Dakota’s proposed measure would legalize the possession and purchase of small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

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Dave Owen, chairman of marijuana legalization group New Approach North Dakota, stands in front of 31 boxes containing signed petitions on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — The group behind a proposed ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota submitted what it says are 25,762 signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday, July 11.

If Jaeger's office deems at least 15,582 of the signatures to be valid, the measure will appear on the general election ballot in November. Jaeger has up to 35 days to determine whether the measure meets the qualifications to go forward.

New Approach North Dakota’s proposed measure would legalize the possession and purchase of small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

The 19-page statutory measure would also allow adult residents to grow limited amounts of cannabis and implement policies to regulate retail marijuana stores.

The group only began collecting signatures in April, but out-of-state donors and medical marijuana dispensaries bankrolled the push with more than $500,000 in political contributions.

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Chairman Dave Owen said on Monday he's extremely proud of the petition gatherers and signers, noting the number of signatures collected in just a few months signals widespread support for legalized marijuana.

To be accepted by Jaeger's office, the signatures must come from adult North Dakota residents with valid addresses in the state.

Owen told Forum News Service he’s confident in the quality of the signatures his group gathered.

"I'm certain we have enough to get over the threshold," Owen said.

Jaeger turned away two other groups that tried to get their measures on the ballot this year after finding thousands of signatures didn’t meet legal standards.

In March, the secretary of state rejected more than 29,000 signatures turned in by a conservative group promoting a measure to set term limits for North Dakota politicians. Last month, Jaeger’s office invalidated nearly 6,000 signatures turned in by a separate group aiming to raise the bar for amending the state constitution. Jaeger also alleged both groups broke the law while gathering signatures.

Two people lean over to write on forms while a third looks on. A sign reads "Sign the petition to legalize marijuana here."
Bradley Foster watches people sign a petition for a ballot measure to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults in North Dakota during a signing drive at the Fargodome on June 10, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum

North Dakota voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 but later rejected a recreational legalization measure backed by Owen in 2018.

Owen said the 2018 measure failed, in part, because it was written as a legalization wishlist. This year’s measure includes stricter regulations and has been pored over by lawyers, he said.

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The language of the proposed measure closely mirrors a 2021 bill that passed the Republican-led North Dakota House of Representatives but died in the state Senate.

Owen said attitudes toward legalization of recreational marijuana have changed in North Dakota, noting that several conservative lawmakers said the passage of a legal pot program was inevitable.

Recreational pot is now legal in 19 states, including Montana, where voters elected to legalize the drug in 2020. A voter-approved legalization measure in South Dakota was deemed unconstitutional last year by the state's Supreme Court.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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