FARGO — The widespread and rapidly growing public acceptance of decriminalizing marijuana use that is sweeping the country has left North Dakota and Minnesota a backward island of pot prohibition.
Last November, South Dakota voters by a majority of 54% voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, one of the latest examples of states that are abandoning the ineffective and harmful no-tolerance policy.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use and 34 states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, allow medical marijuana.
The tide of public opinion clearly has turned and most people now have come to tolerate the idea of legalizing pot, with important limitations including making it illegal for minors to use the drug.
The movement to decriminalize pot smoking coincides with a prison reform movement that also has gained impressive momentum in recent years. Many states including Minnesota and North Dakota have eliminated incarceration penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
That reflects a bipartisan consensus that filling our prisons with low-level drug offenders was counterproductive and overburdening taxpayers. There’s now widespread acceptance of the view that building more and more prisons isn’t the answer to the nation’s drug problem.
So it’s encouraging that legislation to legalize recreational marijuana has been introduced or is expected in both North Dakota and Minnesota.
Even among opponents of pot legalization there’s a grudging acceptance that public opinion has shifted decisively, that strict prohibition has failed and it’s wiser to pass a well-crafted law than to risk the likelihood that a flawed ballot measure would pass.
That’s the position of Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, who is the prime sponsor of a bill to legalize marijuana despite his personal opposition. Marijuana legalization proponents in North Dakota are preparing to take the issue once again to voters.
Dockter aims to satisfy legal marijuana proponents in a bill that makes “the best policy with the strictest restrictions.”
That’s a wise approach. Despite their overwhelming acceptance of medical marijuana, North Dakota voters rejected a poorly written proposal to allow recreational use. In South Dakota, law enforcement opponents of the new law legalizing recreational pot are challenging the law in court, although it is supported by that state’s attorney general, among others.
In Minnesota, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is taking a measured approach, intending to create a safe and well-regulated market and to end injustices.
Opponents in both states will trot out horror stories to try to kill these proposals. But virtually any argument against legalizing recreational marijuana use can also be made against allowing alcohol use, which has flourished because of society’s permissive views.
Both Minnesota and North Dakota are taking a common sense approach to marijuana. Legislators in both states should acknowledge that legalization has the support of majorities of citizens and vote accordingly.
We’ve allowed alcohol use for decades, after a disastrous experiment with Prohibition, but we impose reasonable restrictions. It’s time to do the same with recreational marijuana.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.