Ballot Measure Aiming to Legalize Recreational Marijuana Has Some Deep Flaws

I support legal marijuana in North Dakota. Because, let’s face it, black market marijuana is readily available for everyone who wants it in pretty much every community in the state.

It’s time to wave the white flag on marijuana prohibition. The pot smokers have won.

That said, I’m not sure I can support a proposed ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. At first blush, it seems to have some very deep flaws.

Yesterday Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office announced having received the measure. His office will consider approving for circulation as a petition. You can read it in full below, but it does three things:

  1. It removes marijuana from the state’s prohibition statutes.
  2. It sets 21 as the age at which marijuana can be used legally, and sets penalties for use of the drug under that age (or distribution of it to people under that age) as equivalent to similar violations involving alcohol.
  3. It seals and expunges past criminal convictions for marijuana use/possession/distribution which would be legal under this new law.

I like the idea of the full-on legalization of marijuana, but there are some real problems in this measure which could cause voters to turn away from it despite having approved medical marijuana overwhelmingly just last year.

For one, this is a departure from how other states have legalized marijuana, and politically that’s probably going to put this proposal in jeopardy.

In other states legalization policy has put in place strict controls on how marijuana can be grown, distributed, sold, used, etc. This measure does none of those things, and critics could rightfully argue that such a broad legalization passed at the state level could draw swift reaction from the federal government.

The measure requires that those defendants in the past be notified by a certified letter that their criminal convictions have been expunged within 30 days of passage of the measure. That seems unreasonable.

Part of the reason why implementing the medical marijuana policy is that state officials want to ensure that a sloppy or less-than-thorough process doesn’t invite the wrath of the feds.

But that’s politics. Out here in the real world black market marijuana is readily available and widely used with few problems outside the legal jeopardy created by the status quo in the law.

The other problem is the measure making itself retroactive and expunging past convictions for marijuana use/possession/sale. The legal community is probably going to point out that this will create a lot of work for the courts. The measure requires that those defendants in the past be notified by a certified letter that their criminal convictions have been expunged within 30 days of passage of the measure.

That seems unreasonable. And unnecessary. The measure organizers may well have sacrificed their goal of legal marijuana going forward for the sake of changing the record on past convictions. Even just giving the legal system a longer timeline to expunge those records would have helped.

Here’s the full measure:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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