Conservative states have been catching a lot of cannabis news headlines lately. Oklahoma voters put in place the most permissive medical marijuana program in the country last month and now attention has turned to North Dakota. What do these states have in common? They are some of the deepest red states in the country, and just a few years ago it would have been hard to imagine either state considering any form of marijuana legalization.
North Dakota has a population of just a little over 755,000 people. 18,000 of those people elected to sign a petition to have adult-use marijuana legalized in their state, which is enough to have the referendum question added to the November ballot. Should voters pass the measure, the bill would create a market for the sale, cultivation and use of recreational marijuana for anyone over the age of 21. Last year North Dakota put in place a fairly permissive medical marijuana program that permits the use of medical cannabis for people with conditions such as severe debilitating pain, cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s along with many other conditions.
It is far from a sure thing that the measure will pass come November but with the current trend towards supporting the legalization of cannabis, it is very possible. For many conservative states the issue of legalizing cannabis has a lot to do with the 10th Amendment, a state’s right to choose. The federal government’s continued reluctance to remove cannabis from its Schedule 1 status rankles many people sympathetic to conservative ideals. However, those pushing for the legalization of adult-use cannabis in North Dakota are using the social injustice issue to try and sway voters’ opinions.
In the entire country, no state is harsher with marijuana possession infractions than North Dakota. It has the highest rate of cannabis related arrests in the country and the harshest penalties for those convicted of illegal marijuana possession. Misdemeanor convictions for possessing cannabis can steer an individual’s life. Having a criminal record of any sort makes it more difficult to get a job and acceptance into schools of higher education. The argument is that if a state legalized adult-use cannabis, then all records should be expunged of any non-violent cannabis related crime. It is one of the largest focuses of the proposed bill voters are set to decide upon in November.
Another large draw to the legalization of cannabis is the revenue and jobs it brings a state. North Dakota has been able to see the financial difference marijuana legalization has made in states like Nevada, Colorado and Washington. Michigan is also set to vote on adult-use cannabis later this year, but that would be the closest state to North Dakota with legalized cannabis. Residents in neighboring states like Minnesota, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana may be drawn to the adult-use market in North Dakota adding to the influx of tax revenue that could come from the commercial sale of marijuana. Like Oklahoma, the significance of recreational marijuana legalization in North Dakota is that it furthers the idea that cannabis is now a republican issue. Republicans may have a different rationale for embracing cannabis than democrats, but in the end it has the same desired result for advocates.