Public officials and advocating citizens from across North Dakota met at North Dakota State for a public forum on North Dakota Measures 1 and 3 on Thursday, Oct. 11. The forum was hosted by NDSU Young Americans for Liberty, College Republicans and College Democrats.
Dave Owen, chairperson of Legalize ND and principle Measure 3, the decriminalization of recreational marijuana, spoke in favor of Measure 3 at the forum against North Dakota state representative and attorney Shannon Roers Jones.
“One in every four people in the state of North Dakota has a marijuana charge. It is time to end the failed experiment of prohibition, which sends thousands of people to prison for no reason,” Owen said.
Measure 3 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people age 21 or older in North Dakota as well as unrestricted and untaxed growing, distribution and sales. It would also enact an automatic expunction process for those with prior marijuana-related convictions in North Dakota.
“My opposition to Measure 3 is completely unrelated to any potential social issues,” Roers Jones said. “I believe specifically how poorly the measure is written and the unintended consequences that we would end up with as a result of the writing in the measure.”
Some of the concerns that Roers Jones spoke about included how the bill would require all 177,000 marijuana convictions from the state of North Dakota to be expunged by the court system within 60 days after the vote or the state could be subject to lawsuits.
“But why shouldn’t the government be held accountable?” Owen said. “From where I come from, if you fail to uphold the law and fail to do what the law says, there are consequences. Why don’t we want government accountability? Because without incentive there is no action.”
“Why don’t we want government accountability?” – David Owen
According to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, the record expunction alone would cost the state of North Dakota $1.2 million. The total cost to implement recreational marijuana would be $6.5 million for state agencies and local governments.
“What we’re asking the courts to do is expunge the records of 177,000 people who knowingly broke the law, and we’re not talking about a simple possession of a pipe or paraphernalia, we’re talking about people who could have been distributing hundreds of pounds of marijuana through the state,” Roers Jones said.
With the expunction, if someone were to be arrested for a marijuana change and another charge at the same time, both charges would go through the court on the same document and could not be separated; therefore, both charges would be eliminated.
“They’re saying that it doesn’t matter, that these people knowingly broke the law, but an unjust law is no law at all in my mind,” Owen said. “They’ve served their time. They’ve paid for what they’ve done. But now that we’re moving toward an era where it will be legal, it does not make sense to hold a black mark against them for something we no longer view as criminal.”
Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and Washington D.C. If Measure 3 passes, North Dakota will have the most liberal marijuana law.
“They have been saying ‘just pass it and the legislation can fix it,’ but what kind of logic is that?” Roers Jones said. “Pass a terribly written measure, and hope you can get two-thirds of the legislation to pass it.”
“This measure is not fully written. This measure is about personal freedom and ending the war on drugs and creating revenue in the state,” Owen said.
Measure 1, which if passed would create an ethics commission in the North Dakota government and ban foreign-based political contributions, was represented at the forum by North Dakota state auditor Josh Gallion in opposition to the measure. Those who support Measure 1 were not in attendance. However, they did submit a letter that was read by the moderator, Amanda Savitt.
“Measure 1 protects North Dakota from the out of state interests, corporate powers and lobbyists who seek to own North Dakota (or think they already own it),” the letter said. “We believe that North Dakota doesn’t belong to anybody and can’t be bought with trips to Antigua, fun field trips to oil country, steak dinners, covering the bar tab or the promise of cushy post-public service job.”
Some of the organizations that support Measure 1 are Voters Right to Know, Represent.Us and former North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Lloyd Omdahl. Those in opposition include American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and Xcel Energy.
“The anti-corruption measure sounds great at face value, but, as state auditor, it is our number one goal for effective transparency,” Gallion said. “It is what we do each and every day.”
The main support for Measure 1 is from the organization North Dakotans for Public Integrity, which is co-chaired by Ellen Chaffee, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota lieutenant governor in 2012, and Dina Butcher, former North Dakota human rights division director appointed by former Gov. John Hoeven.
“Ninety percent of the money in support of this measure comes from out of state, while 90 percent of the money that oppose this measure are from in North Dakota,” Gallion said. “They are talking about keeping outside influence out of our elections, and they are doing that very thing.”
So far, those in favor of Measure 1 have raised over $623,620.83 and spent $410,146.46, while those against it have raised $251,600 and spent $32,941.26, according to ballotpedia.org.
“Measure 1 would close the gaps in state policy with a nonpartisan ethics commission that (along with the legislature) will set clear ethical standards, maintain a confidential whistle-blower hotline and conduct investigations on credibly reported violations,” the letter from North Dakotans for Public Integrity said. “The ethics commission will be a resource for citizens, candidates, elected officials, researchers, appointees, state employees and, yes, even lobbyists.”
Thirty-nine states in the U.S. currently have an independent ethics commission that has authority over the state legislator; seven states have an ethics commission that does not have authority over the state legislation; and six states do not have an ethics commission.
“This ethics commission does not accomplish anything new,” – Josh Gallion
“This ethics commission does not accomplish anything new,” Gallion said. “There is nothing in this measure that is not already happening in the state of North Dakota. If you have an election issue, call the Secretary of State. If someone is breaking the law or infringing on your rights, we also have an Attorney General’s Office who can take care of the issue and prosecute.”
Fargo’s Measure 1 was also contested at the forum. Zac Echola, board member of Reform ND, spoke for the measure against professor Mark Johnson of Minnesota State University Moorhead. Measure 1 would change Fargo’s city voting ballot from selecting one candidate to checking “yes” or “no” for every candidate, and the candidate with the most “yes” answers would receive the seat.
Elections will be held Nov. 6 for all measures.