What’s different about 2022 ND marijuana vote? Money

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

BISMARCK, N.D. — The main group working to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota has more than a half-million dollars to press its case, far more than the mostly shoe-leather effort they relied on four years ago. Meanwhile, a major oil industry group that helped fund opposition last time says it will sit on the sidelines this time.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council will not contribute to fight the pot legalization effort that will appear on the November general election ballot, said Ron Ness, the group’s president.

“It’s one of those things where we only have so many resources,” said Ness, whose group represents several hundred companies.

Ness said one in five North Dakota jobs are directly or indirectly tied to the state’s oil industry. Most oilfield jobs require drug testing, and legalizing pot would likely shrink the employment pool, he said.

The energy group contributed $30,000 to the failed statewide ballot effort in 2018 to legalize recreational marijuana. It was among a group of lawyers, law enforcement and business leaders that pushed opposition.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber, the state’s largest business organization, contributed $64,000 to oppose the measure in 2018. CEO and President Arik Spencer said the group hasn’t decided whether it will help fund — or even support — another opposition effort. It did so four years ago “largely because of workforce impacts,” he said.

Many, including Spencer, said legalizing recreational marijuana in North Dakota may be inevitable, as public support for legalization increases despite being illegal at the federal level.

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana. Supporters think the state’s 2016 vote allowing medicinal marijuana suggests they can win in conservative North Dakota.

Legalization proposals also are on the ballot so far this fall in South Dakota, Missouri and Maryland.

“It’s kind of moving in in the states around us and Canada, and you know North Dakota is probably not too far down the line,” Spencer said.

North Dakota voters in in 2018 soundly rejected a marijuana legalization initiative that also included a provision that would wipe out past pot-related convictions. David Owen, who has led past pro-legalization efforts and also the current, believes the measure could pass this time.

“We’re a viable campaign that has a good chance of success,” he said.