The Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) hosted community leaders in an open forum, the Pre-4/20 Pot Party Forum, discussing the legalization of recreational marijuana use last Wednesday, April 18.
The event was brought about not in an attempt to promote a pro-legalization position, but to open the discussion surrounding marijuana decriminalization and legalization, for both medical and recreational use.
Rep. Tom Kading (R-45) spoke first, discussing the variety of positions within the Republican Party regarding the issue around marijuana. He recognized that there needs to be some form of change regarding marijuana criminalization due to the significant costs of incarceration.
Kading highlighted that there has been a researched correlation between violent crimes and property crimes with hard drugs, but stated, “When it comes to cannabis, that relationship isn’t there.”
Kading then discussed the rhetoric surrounding drug use, particularly cannabis, and welfare, but continued to question that rhetoric, and ultimately asked, “Do drugs cause welfare use, or does welfare cause drug use?”
Rep. Gretchen Dobervich (D-11) followed Kading, highlighting the social justice, health benefits and personal liberty of legalizing recreational marijuana use. She began by clarifying that her position was her own and did not represent the opinion of the Democratic Party or all Democratic candidates.
Dobervich initiated her argument by outlining the racial discrimination narrative surrounding the criminalization of marijuana.
“The policing of marijuana possession is racially biased,” Dobervich stated. “It’s not white, middle-class women like me … it’s minorities.”
She claimed that, aside from exceptional cases involving other hard drugs and influences, she has not found a case, as a public health and social work professional, of marijuana being the cause of death.
As for the medical benefits of marijuana, she highlighted numerous cases, studies and research that provide substantial support for medicinal cannabis. And for her, the answer was clear, in which she stated, “Who am I to deny someone medical treatment?”
After Rep. Dobervich, Timothy Sizemore, the libertarian candidate for the North Dakota House of Representatives out of District 27, spoke on the benefits of cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
Sizemore emphasized the importance of this issue for him personally as a veteran, that cannabis could be an important alternative for PTSD symptoms but also for pain relief.
Cannabis could serve as an alternative to opiates for treatment of pain symptoms. With the opioid epidemic continuing to span across the country, Rep. Dobervich and Sizemore highlighted the destructive capabilities of opiates and how cannabis has impacted the epidemic.
Sizemore stated that the negative effects of opiates, including prescription opiates, have become clearer in recent years, saying that “80 percent of people who misuse heroin, began with the misuse of opiates.”
Rep. Dobervich stated that since the introduction of medicinal cannabis and even recreational use, “deaths from opiates have dropped. Prescriptions for opioids have dropped.”
David Owen, organizer of Legalize ND and author of the recreational marijuana bill being proposed as a ballot amendment, spoke about the movement in North Dakota to legalize recreational marijuana use and clarify what the bill includes.
Owen stated that there were three parts to the bill: legalization of marijuana, expungement and adjusting penalties for future use. The first part was clear, legalizing recreational marijuana use for individuals over the age of 21 with proper regulation surrounding the manufacturing, growing, processing, sale and distribution of the drug.
The second part, expungement, states that after an individual previously convicted of a crime involving marijuana finishes their sentence, their record is cleared, so that they “can get their life back,” according to Owen.
The final part addresses the issue of misuse and abuse of cannabis, even when legalized. Owen said the goal with the third part is to tie usage of marijuana to “something more comparable — like alcohol.”
Following Owen, local attorneys Bruce Quick and Mark Friese addressed the legal issues surrounding marijuana legalization. They clarified immediately that regardless of what a state may do with their laws on cannabis, the substance was still illegal under federal law due to the current scheduling of marijuana.
Because the substance is illegal under federal law, the national government and federal law enforcement will preempt state action under the supremacy clause. However, Quick and Friese recognized that the federal government cannot conscript states to help enforce federal law.
Bradley Foster, president of SSDP, and Jacques Harvieux, vice president of SSDP, expressed their satisfaction with the event. Both stated that they received positive feedback about the event and a lot of interest in the issue.
Harvieux stated that he was surprised with how cohesive all of the speakers were in addressing the issue, but expressed that he was confident in the future of marijuana in North Dakota.