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North Dakota studying pros and cons of recreational pot

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday began studying the consequences of legalizing marijuana in the state, a move that comes amid a pair of proposed citizen-led initiatives that aim to make the drug legal for recreational use.
Despite presentations from law enforcement, regulators and backers of the proposed ballot measures, the interim Judiciary Committee got few definitive answers on their required study of the pros and cons of marijuana legalization.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel told the panel some states that have legalized marijuana “are still trying to digest the data.”
“Exactly what the impacts would be (for North Dakota) are speculative at this point,” he said.
Bismarck Republican Rep. Lawrence Klemin, who heads the panel, said he did not expect the study to inspire legislation.
“The immediate objective is to produce a report,” he told the panel. That report is expected to be completed in about a year and after several additional meetings, he told reporters.
The study required by a bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature this spring also comes three years after lawmakers were caught off-guard by voters’ approval of medical marijuana, forcing a scramble to write rules implementing that law.
Division of Medical Marijuana director Jason Wahl shrugged his shoulders when asked what impact the approval of recreational marijuana might have on the marijuana sold as medicine.
“It’s hard to determine,” he said.
North Dakota voters last year soundly rejected a marijuana legalization initiative that also included a provision that would wipe out past pot-related convictions.
Backers argued the legalization would free up law enforcement to tackle more serious crimes. They counted on a shoe-leather campaign to build support, raising little money for their effort and getting only token help from national legalization groups.
David Owen, who led the failed legalization initiative, said the group’s new proposal eliminates the provision that would wipe out convictions and addresses other concerns about recreational marijuana. For example, he said, the new initiative would allow communities to “opt-out” of having marijuana dispensaries.
Jody Vetter, who chairs the group backing the other initiative that aims to legalize the sale of marijuana, told the committee that the state has made some “headway” in approving medical marijuana and decriminalizing small amounts of pot, but it “is simply not enough.
Neither group has submitted the required signatures to get their proposals on the ballot.
Eleven states already have legalized recreational marijuana use and it’s under consideration in 15 more, said Karmen Hanson, program director of Behavior Health at the National Conference of State Legislatures.