The Peace Garden State won't be growing any recreational marijuana in the near future. North Dakota voters just shot down Measure 3 - a ballot initiative that would have legalized adult cannabis use statewide.
The disappointing result isn't a complete surprise though. Leading up to Election Day, advocates had the sense that the vote would be close at best.
"In my heart of hearts, I feel like this is a dogfight. I feel like this is a 50-50 race," Cole Haymond - an advisor to the Legalize ND Campaign - told Civilized ahead of Election Day.
On top of that, the most recent poll coming from the state suggested that 51 percent of voters supported Measure 3 while 36 percent were opposed. So the 13 percent of undecideds swung the vote in the wrong direction for reform, and the measure's supporters disappeared when the time came to cast ballots.
But while the initiative's fate was always a toss up, one thing is certain: this won't be the last time you hear about recreational cannabis in North Dakota. Although the Yes campaign lost today's battle, the fight for marijuana reform will continue in the state. And if they can get as much enthusiasm for recreational use as they mustered for medical marijuana, then the next ballot initiative will will fare much better at the polls.
"In 2016, 64 percent of North Dakotans voted for medical marijuana," Haymond noted. So it's not like the state is fundamentally opposed to cannabis.
But to get that strong of a majority onboard with reform, they might need to develop a proposal that is less ambitious than its predecessor. Here's why Measure 3 was the most liberal cannabis ballot initiative that we've seen so far.
Measure 3 would have made it legal for anyone 21 or older to purchase, possess and consume cannabis in North Dakota. They would also be allowed to grow cannabis in their homes. And unlike the 9 states that have legalized recreational use thus far, Measure 3 would not have limited the amount of cannabis that North Dakotans could possess at any given time, nor would it have restricted how many cannabis plants they could grow at home.
"Measure 3 has no cap on possession or cultivation," Haymond told Civilized ahead of Election Day. "It is the most liberal recreational bill that this country has seen on the ballot. But on the flip side, when you look at it from a free-market perspective, it's also the most conservative since conservatives argue that less regulation is better for everything."
Conservatives also despise taxes, which should have made Measure 3 appealing to them because it does not create a cannabis-specific tax. Those special excise taxes are common in recreational states, but advocates in North Dakota wanted to do things differently. But their proposal might have been a bit too ambitious for voters who are still wary of marijuana.
Criminal Justice Reform
On top of allowing recreational cannabis use, Measure 3 would have given many drug offenders a fresh start by expunging nonviolent cannabis convictions from their records and sealing court documents relating to those cases (unless the offence involved a minor).
That could have changed the lives of thousands of North Dakotans whose careers are hampered by old pot busts.
"One in seven North Dakotans have some marijuana charge on their record - in some way, shape or form," Haymond told Civilized.
That number is absurdly high considering that not many residents of the Peace Garden State actually consume cannabis.
"Per capita, usage of marijuana by North Dakotans is ranked 47th [of the 50 states] according to FBI crime data. It's 47th in usage, but the 6th in marijuana-related arrests. And the state of North Dakota's population is less than a million. So a lot of people could help their families more and seek out a fruitful career without being handcuffed by a mistake—not even a mistake but possessing a plant."
Those in Favor/Those Opposed
There was no shortage of support for Measure 3 from both sides of the political aisle.
"We do enjoy support from Democrats and Republican elected officials on this issue," Haymond told Civilized last month.
Unfortunately, there was also no shortage of adversaries for Measure 3. Those included North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana as well as a group called Healthy and Productive North Dakota, which was backed by Project SAM (one of the most influential of the anti-cannabis lobbying groups in America today).
Then there was an assortment of other groups who are rallying around the Vote No On 3 campaign.
"If you look at their coalition, it's pretty clear who opposes us: the healthcare industry, pharmacies and pharmaceutical associations - and you can wager your guesses as to why since the marijuana industry would hurt the pharmaceutical industry," Haymond told Civilized.
During the campaign, the No coalition frequently used their greatest weapon: misinformation.
"We're facing the most ridiculous attacks," Haymond said ahead of Election Day. "Some are just laughable. Like, 'Legalizing marijuana will legalize child neglect'." Healthy and Productive North Dakota is really pushing the idea that this is bad for children. It's desperate attacks. Our detractors say, 'Big Marijuana is coming to take over.' But here's the facts: corporate farming is banned in the state of North Dakota. So if Big Marijuana wanted to come in here, they can't. So we certainly work hard every day to set the record straight."
Unfortunately, all that hard work did not translate into a win, but the inroads made with North Dakota voters will undoubtedly pay off as the fight for marijuana reform continues.