Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

North Dakota Voters Reject Marijuana Legalization

Since approving medical marijuana by a wide margin in 2016, North Dakotans have said no twice to allowing recreational use.


North Dakota voters, who approved medical marijuana in 2016 by a 28-point margin, declined to go further on Tuesday, rejecting a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational use. With 79 percent of ballots reported, 55 percent of voters had said no to Statutory Measure 2, which would have allowed adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three plants at home. The North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services would have been charged with licensing and regulating commercial production and distribution.

Beginning a month after the election, Measure 2 would have eliminated criminal and civil penalties for possession and cultivation within the specified limits. It also would have allowed sharing of marijuana among adults "without consideration." Use would have been limited to private property "not generally accessible by the public." Regulators would have been required to write rules for the recreational cannabis industry by October 1, 2023.

Although North Dakota voters approved medical marijuana by a wide margin in 2016, three-fifths of them rejected a marijuana legalization initiative two years later. David Owen, who chaired the campaign for the unsuccessful 2018 initiative and tried again with a revised version this year, emphasized the "restricted, regulated, [and] controlled" market that would be allowed by Measure 2, saying, "This is a marijuana program that is very, very similar to the one that passed the North Dakota State House."

Supporters of Measure 2 included state Rep. Matthew Ruby (R–Minot), who said it would "create good jobs" and provide "new economic opportunities" for South Dakota farmers. "With reasonable controls and regulations in place, this measure represents a responsible approach to legalization," Ruby said. "Our neighbors in Montana are demonstrating that cannabis legalization can work successfully. Now it's our turn to move forward."

The chief opposition to Measure 2 came from Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), operating under the banner of Healthy and Productive North Dakota. "We believe that the health, safety and economic harms of recreational marijuana legalization far outweigh the perceived social benefits," SAM said. "We are medical doctors, employers, treatment providers, drug prevention professionals, business owners, employees, law enforcement officers, and parents. Healthy and Productive North Dakota believes that ND communities should not be victims of the commercialization and normalization of marijuana."

According to a Ballotpedia tally, Measure 2's supporters had received more than $500,000 in contributions as of September 9. The opposition had not reported any contributions at that point.