BISMARCK, N.D. (Feb. 23, 2021) – Today, the North Dakota House passed a bill to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for adults despite federal prohibition.
Rep. Jason Dockter (R-Bismarck) along with a bipartisan coalition of four representatives introduced House Bill 1420 (HB1420) in January. Under the proposed law, adults over 21 could possess and purchase up to one ounce of marijuana. The bill would also create a regulatory program for the cultivation and sale of marijuana.
On Feb. 23, the House passed HB1420 by a 56-38 vote.
The House also passed a separate bill (HB1501) that would create a taxation scheme for marijuana by a 73-21 vote.
The proposed legalization of marijuana would not allow home cultivation.
According to Marijuana Moment, Dockter actually opposes marijuana legalization, but would rather have the legislature control the program rather than have it legalized by ballot measure. North Dakota activists are already pushing such an initiative. They must gather 26,904 valid signatures from registered voters in order to put the measure before voters.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
North Dakota legalized medical marijuana in 2016 despite ongoing federal prohibition.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of marijuana for personal use in North Dakota would take the next step and removes another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
North Dakota is one of a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. During the November election, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey legalized marijuana for recreational use.
With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
The push to legalize marijuana for personal use in Hawaii and to expand decriminalization demonstrates another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way for medical purposes – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB1420 now moves to the Senate for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not received a committee assignment.
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