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Cannabis legalization measure faces opposition

With fewer than six weeks left before this year’s midterm elections, a group has formed to oppose the passage of Measure 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota.

The committee Healthy and Productive North Dakota announced its entry in the debate over marijuana legalization in a news release, after paperwork was filed on Oct. 5, by Fargo addiction counselor Kristie Spooner. Spooner had served as the chair of a previous opposition effort that succeed in blocking a similar measure in 2018.

HPND is being supported in this effort by national organizations, including Luke Niforatos, the CEO of Protect Our Kids, and Connor Kubeisy, a policy associate from Smart Approaches to Marijuana serving as the campaign’s manager. In its press release, HPND said it would be working to educate North Dakotans about their concerns about recreational marijuana, with Niforatos saying, “The self-interested marijuana industry is hell bent on taking root in North Dakota, no matter the consequences for public health and public safety.”

HPND feels that Measure 2 would cause an increase in youth marijuana use and, ultimately, a rise in traffic accidents and marijuana-related emergency room visits.

“Measure 2 lacks critical safeguards that are needed to prevent youth from using marijuana,” Kubeisy said in the press release, claiming that Measure 2 doesn’t restrict how cannabis products will be advertised, lacks limitations on potency, as well as requirements for warning labels and child-resistant caps.

New Approach North Dakota, the committee sponsoring Measure 2, responded to some of the statements made in HPND’s release, with Mark Friese, NAND’s treasurer and a Fargo criminal law attorney, saying, “It’s disappointing to see Measure 2 opponents resorting to fear tactics right out of the gate rather than engaging in an intellectually honest debate.”

They shared a number of reports and studies, including one issued by the Colorado state government that found teen cannabis use has dropped in the 10 years since legalization was passed by voters in 2012.

According to the study, between 2013 and 2021 the percentage of Colorado high school students who consumed cannabis decreased from 19.7% to 13.3%. Another report issued by Washington state also indicated a significant drop over the last 10 years amongst 8th, 10th and 12th graders, decreasing 6.6%, 12.1%, and 10.8%, respectively. Additionally, a study published by the American Medical Association determined, “there were no significant associations between enactment of RMLs (recreational marijuana laws) or MMLs (medical marijuana laws) and marijuana use among high school students.”

“Studies conducted by public health departments in other states as well as peer-reviewed research consistently show that marijuana use among high schoolers does not increase following passage of adult-use legalization laws,” Friese concluded.

District 40 Rep. Matt Ruby, R-Minot, is a member of the Measure 2 sponsoring committee and also took issue with the notion that the measure disregarded public safety.

“I’m a father of four young children, and I’m behind Measure 2 precisely because it includes so many responsible safeguards and limitations. The language is based on a bill passed by a majority of my colleagues in the North Dakota House of Representatives, including many Republicans,” Ruby said, “To claim that Measure 2 was written without regard to public health and safety is simply not true.”

While the text of the measure doesn’t explicitly address some of the elements brought forward by HPND, Measure 2 does require that the state department created to regulate recreational marijuana would have until Oct. 1, 2023, to adopt necessary rules for this new industry. These rules would govern the transport, storage, advertising, packaging and labeling of recreational marijuana products, along with standards for testing and testing facilities.

“They are criticizing us for not including details in the measure, but the measure clearly contemplates all of the issues they raise. If we spelled out every last detail in the actual legislation, the bill would be extremely long and cumbersome for voters,” said NAND chairman David Owen.

Voters will have their say at the polls on Nov. 8.

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