North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum: The Feds Should Decriminalize Marijuana

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum John Hageman / Forum News Service

Because the initiated measure process is an awful way to make public policy, North Dakota voters last year cast their ballots in favor of a measure to legalize medical marijuana which didn’t actually decriminalize medical marijuana.

So lawmakers had to fix the measure, and their completed bill was signed by Governor Doug Burgum today.

What’s making news about the signing is Burgum admitting that he smoked pot in the 1970’s while touring Alaska – I was born in that state and I can say they’ve long had a relaxed attitude about marijuana up there – but more interesting I believe is Burgum’s call for the feds to decriminalize the drug.

He notes that other states which have legalized marijuana to one degree or another have struggled with a surge in a crime as a result, something he attributes to the fact that the feds still consider it illegal everywhere in the country:

Burgum said he planned to sign the medical marijuana bill, which replaces the initiated measure voters passed in November. Asked about whether North Dakota should move toward full legalization, Burgum cited banking issues in Colorado.

“If you want to attract a criminal element to an industry, then make sure it’s an all-cash economy,” he said. “I would like to see the federal government move toward decriminalization so that we can actually get the financial system back involved in this part of the industry so we have a better shot of tracking it.”

Burgum said the so-called war on drugs has been ineffective, citing societal costs.

This is a very strong point.

We know that prohibitionist policies – whether we’re talking about marijuana or other drugs or even alcohol – create black markets which are served by a criminal element. While the decriminalization of marijuana in many states – including, now, North Dakota – is a move away from prohibition, the federal attitude towards pot still leaves room for that criminal element.

A lot of people argue that the decriminalization of pot will have a positive impact on crime because it will take a lucrative business out of the black market and put it out in the sunlight where law-abiding citizens can participate.

But I’m not sure we’re going to see that side effect until federal policies change.

I’m glad Burgum is making that point, and I hope he’ll back it up with action as governor.

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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