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Statewide group forms to oppose recreational marijuana in ND

Former North Dakota district court judge and attorney general Bob Wefald is leading the campaign against recreational marijuana and addressed the media in Fargo on Thursday, Sept. 6. Barry Amundson / Forum News Service

FARGO—A statewide group announced on Thursday, Sept. 6, that they will fight passage of recreational marijuana in North Dakota in this fall's election, calling it "bad law" and promising to educate residents about its dangers.

Led by former state district court judge and attorney general Bob Wefald, the group held news conferences in Fargo and Bismarck to announce its formation and said other organizations are expected to join its campaign in coming weeks.

They have named the group North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana.

"We believe it is very important right now to let North Dakota voters know we care enough to fight this flawed measure," Wefald, of Bismarck, said.

The proposed law, he said, would make North Dakota "the most liberal state for the regulation and control of marijuana."

The main talking points of the group, and others in mostly law enforcement that have announced they oppose the measure, is that if passed, it would not be against the law to drive while impaired by marijuana and that it could be smoked in public places.

Wefald said about the "only thing that would be illegal when it comes to marijuana in the state is that it would be illegal to sell to anyone under 21."

The group was just formed last week and plans to seek funding to fight against the measure. Wefald himself said he was giving $1,000 to the cause.

Also speaking were Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney and Luke Niforatos of the anti-legalization group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Laney said that he believes if the law passes it would "severely hamper" his agency's ability to protect the public.

He urged residents to research and educate themselves on the issue and if they did "it would be enough to scare anyone."

Niforatos painted what he called a grim picture of what has happened in Colorado since voters approved legalization in 2012 and retail marijuana stores began opening in 2014. He said the only thing that the marijuana industry is out for is to make a profit.

He said the industry is blatantly targeting children in Colorado just like Big Tobacco does to keep customers and that tax revenues from marijuana sales were just 1 percent of the Colorado budget revenues.

Niforatos also said the potency of the marijuana being sold in Colorado is much, much higher than it was in the days of Woodstock or the hippie days of the 1970s and thus causing more troubles with crime and impaired driving in the state.

While eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, Niforatos said Ohio and Arizona voted down measures in 2016.

While polls have shown conflicting views of voters in North Dakota and arguments over their validity, the chairperson of the pro-marijuana group Legalize ND said those opposing the measure are "using fear tactics" and that opponents' views on the measure concerning driving while impaired and smoking in public are "ridiculous claims."

The chairperson, Dave Owen of Grand Forks, said lawyers on their side say those issues shouldn't be of concern and are untrue.

Although the law, he said, would take effect if approved in 30 days according to the state constitution, the state Legislature could call a special session or later address any concerns, just as they did with the medical marijuana law that voters approved in 2016.

"The wording of the new law is only two pages," he said. "That can easily be addressed by the Legislature."

Owen pointed to their views that are positives, such as marijuana helping people get off opioids, providing millions in new tax revenues, giving farmers another growing option on their land, getting rid of the black market and giving adults and children who need it for medical purposes a more affordable option.

"Prohibition just hasn't worked and hasn't done anything except separate families and hurt young people trying to get student loans or apartments. The policies have failed," Owen said.

Owen also said there would be supporters of the measure from other national organizations speaking out on the issue in North Dakota in the coming weeks before the Nov. 6 vote.

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