The leader of an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota is confident his group will have enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.
David Owen of Grand Forks chairs “Legalize N-D.” His group needs 13,452 valid petition signatures by July 6th.
Owen said petition circulation began January 6th. He said the group has already collected between 1400 and 2000 signatures.
"We are on schedule," Owen said in an interview. "And we'll be on the November ballot, assuming everything goes well."
Owen said he has three main reasons for legalization. One is the cost of putting people in prison for marijuana offenses.
"It costs between $38,000 and $42,000 to put people in prison," Owen said. "To put that in perspective, a semester at UND costs about $5000," Owen said. "You could either send a student to UND for 4 years, or incarcerate one person."
Owen said the cost to the state to imprison marijuana offenders is immense -- and inordinate, for something he said is comparatively harmless.
"We're not talking about murderers here," Owen said. "We're talking about someone who smoked a joint in their house, and didn't harm anybody."
Owen said a second reason is the state’s workforce shortage. He said the biggest barrier to filling some of the jobs is a lack of education – and a barrier to education is the unavailability of student loans. He said if you have a marijuana conviction, you can’t get a student loan.
Owen said a third reason for legalization is the potential for marijuana as a cash crop.
"It is a huge potential boost to our farmers," Owen said. "And the retail sales will help fund the taxes."
A legalization measure was rejected by voters in 2018. Owen said his group was criticized in 2018 for having too broad a measure. He said this one is more limited – and he thinks there is support for it.