BISMARCK, N.D. — Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana in North Dakota have succeeded in bringing the matter to a public vote later this year.
Proponents submitted more than the required 13,452 valid petition signatures to get a measure on the November general election ballot, Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Monday. Supporters submitted 17,695 signatures last month, and 14,637 were deemed valid, he said.
"The Legalize ND campaign was able to successfully channel the grassroots enthusiasm for recreational marijuana," said David Owen, chairman of the citizen group behind the petition drive.
The proposal seeks to legalize marijuana for people 21 and older and also seal the records of anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be made legal under the measure.
Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana failed on a petition drive in 2016. That same year, North Dakota voters approved medical marijuana, and the state Health Department is in the process of setting up a system for the drug.
Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Legalize ND believes both of those developments improve the chances that a recreational marijuana measure will pass in North Dakota, generally a conservative state.
"We spend a lot of money imprisoning people (for marijuana). A real conservative doesn't want to lock up everybody," Legalize ND spokesman Josh Dryer said.
The measure also shouldn't require an expansion of state government or additional state spending, he said.
The North Dakota Sheriff's and Deputies Association believes legalizing recreational marijuana would create more problems for law enforcement in the state, where more than half of drug arrests already involve marijuana, according to statistics from the Attorney General's Office.
The association in May passed a resolution opposing the ballot measure. Officers worry about potential problems such as more impaired drivers and fatalities, and more domestic disputes. Mental health and addiction treatment facilities also could feel a strain, said Billings County Sheriff Pat Rummel, president of the association.
"We don't have enough facilities to take care of these people," he said. "That's going to have a huge impact, too, of where do we put these people that need to be into treatment?"
The association is meeting this week and will discuss how to oppose the ballot measure, Rummel said.
The anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana also will work to oppose North Dakota's ballot measure, President Kevin Sabet said.
"Our nation is dealing with a five-alarm fire of addiction right now; the last thing we need is for more states to throw gasoline on it by promoting more drug use," he said.
Legalize ND is planning to counter the opposition by bringing in members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP. The pro-legalization organization of former and current police officers, federal agents, judges and prosecutors will campaign in favor of the measure, Dryer said.