Despite defeats in the midterm election and in the state legislature, a leading North Dakota cannabis legalization activist tells Marijuana Moment that the fight isn’t over and that a new ballot measure will be up for consideration in 2020.
“It’s going to be a full legalization measure,” Dave Owen, founder and chairman of Legalize ND, said of the proposal he hopes will be before voters in next year’s general election. “Because if I’m going to work for thousands of hours on this I may as well get everything I want.”
Owen’s group was the driving force behind a 2018 ballot initiative that would have ended cannabis prohibition in the state but was defeated by voters following a well-funded opposition campaign.
Advocates have also pushed state lawmakers to pass a less far-reaching bill to simply decriminalize marijuana possession, but it was defeated in a narrow House of Representatives vote last week.
In a phone interview on Friday, Owen discussed plans for 2020, including struggles with fundraising, the high cost of polling and revisions in the ballot measure’s language as compared to the last effort.
“We have to hope that if big prohibition shows up, big marijuana doesn’t stay home,” he said.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Marijuana Moment (MM): Why go for a full legalization measure in 2020?
Dave Owen (DO): Because at the end of the day I think it should be legal. What bothers me is we throw all these kids in prison, give them all these records and then wonder why people can’t find jobs. In North Dakota it is still a misdemeanor for possession of a gram. Any amount is a misdemeanor with 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. It’s absurd. It’s utterly ridiculous and it’s got to stop.
MM: What will be different about the measure that you present in 2020?
DO: The last time, our bill was unlimited growing, no licensing, no permitting and nothing beyond a sales tax. It was a really aggressive measure so we’re going to taper it back a little bit. We’re going to have some grow limits and a possession limit. We’re going to have some form of an excise tax and we’re going to have a licensing system. Our last bill didn’t have any of those. Expungement was part of the last measure. I’m not sure if it will make it this time.
MM: What changes are you going to make in your campaign strategy going toward 2020?
DO: There’s not going to be much changes in terms of strategy, but our big issue is fundraising. Out of state organizations pumped more than $300,000 into the campaign and the entire industry couldn’t even give us $100,000. So we’re going to have to figure out the fundraising problem and the national organizations are going to have to help out. If [national prohibitionist organization] Smart Approaches to Marijuana is going to spend all this money against us, we’re going to need help. I’m going to hope we don’t get left out in the cold nationally. We got buried by out of state money [in 2018].
MM: What kind of support are you seeing locally for this kind of measure?
DO: We did it all through volunteer work and we were the only ballot measure in the last cycle to do that. We have to the lowest cost per signature generation of any measure. We have a huge grassroots network and a couple of Facebook groups which each have about 3 to 5 percent of the voting population of the state on them. We’re seeing a lot of support for it, the challenge is getting over that threshold. We’re kind of in the same situation that Colorado was in the first time. We’re on the cusp and we need a little more to get over the edge.
MM: Do you have any new polling?
DO: The cost of polling is absurd. For us to do a poll would be between $5,000 and $10,000. When your campaign only raises about $80,000, that’s a high barrier. The polls that we used last time showed us at about 50 percent but clearly they were wrong.
MM: How confident are you in your ability to convince voters in 2020?
DO: I think it’s very probable that we can do it. It’s definitely achievable but if SAM does what they did last time, will the national orgs step in? That’s going to mean the difference between a 55 percent pass and a 47 percent fail. We’re going to need a bunch of signatures and ideally we don’t exist in the same world as last time.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.