A bill to legalize marijuana in North Dakota that passed the House last month received its first hearing in a Senate committee on Monday, with debate centering mostly on who should shape the policy change that most observers increasingly see as inevitable: the legislature or voters.
With activists already mounting a signature gathering campaign to place a ballot initiative before voters in 2022 that would amend the state Constitution to legalize cannabis for adult use, legislators are now faced with a quandary. They could wait and see how that process unfolds, or they can advance more restrictive reform legislation sponsored by a Republican lawmaker who doesn’t even personally support ending prohibition.
That bill, led by Rep. Jason Dockter (R), narrowly passed the House. The Senate Human Services Committee took it up Monday, hearing from supporters, opponents and neutral parties alike. The panel didn’t vote on the measure, but the testimony offered a preview of the discussion that’s to be had over the coming weeks.
“I’ve said several times I’ve never smoked marijuana. I don’t believe in marijuana. But I also believe that I’d rather have us have good legislation than to put it in the Constitution,” Dockter said in opening comments. “I believe it’s the job of our lawmakers to have good policy, even if you don’t agree with what the topic that the bill has in it.”
Reform advocates might not agree that it’s ideal policy that the representative is putting forward, but it would certainly be a step forward. HB 1420 would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use, but home cultivation would not be allowed, for example.
The sponsor said he “want[s] to be proactive,” and that “a lot of times, we’re reactive in government.” He