By Paul Armentano on Oct 26, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.
The fate of marijuana prohibition hangs in the balance on Election Day. A “yes” vote on Measure 3 is a decision to end the failed, wasteful, and destructive policy of cannabis criminalization – a policy that has led to the arrest and incarceration of tens of thousands of North Dakotans.
Lets be clear. Measure 3 is not about marijuana per se, but about whether we wish to continue to waste limited criminal justice resources on the prosecution of those who choose to possess and consume it. Passage of Measure 3 would have adramatic effect on policing efforts in the state. According to an analysis of FBI data, North Dakota currently ranks sixth in the United States in per capita marijuana arrests. These law enforcement efforts would be better served if they were redirected toward targeting and prosecuting more serious criminal activities.
Measure 3 would also lift the stigmatization current faced by those who possess a lifelong criminal conviction for past cannabis offenses. Branding these offenders, many of them twenty-somethings just beginning their professional careers, as lifelong criminals results in a litany of lost opportunities – including the loss of employment, housing, and student aid – and serves no legitimate societal purpose. By any rational assessment, the continued criminalization of cannabis is a disproportionate public policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a public health concern. But it should not be a criminal justice matter.
This is why more and more states are moving away from the model of marijuana prohibition. Nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, have similarly halted the arrest of adult marijuana consumers. None of these states have elected to amend these policies and return to an era of cannabis criminalization.