Chamber opposes ND Measure to Legalize Marijuana
Moorhead, Minnesota (October 9, 2018) – The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce opposes North Dakota Measure 3 pertaining to the legalization of marijuana. The Chamber’s Public Policy committee invited both the proponents and opponents of the measure to speak at their September meeting for discussion prior to making the official stance. The committee then recommended a stance in opposition to The Chamber’s Board of Directors. On September 27, the board voted unanimously to carry the recommendation of the committee and formally oppose Measure 3.
There are several reasons for The Chamber’s position in opposition to the measure, none of which include the social arguments surrounding the discussion. As a representative of the business community, The Chamber is most concerned with the uncertainty this measure creates for businesses and the negative impacts to workforce. North Dakota already has a workforce shortage, and the ability to recruit a qualified workforce is essential to foster further growth for our economy. Measure 3 would further inhibit employers’ ability to recruit an able workforce. For employers focused on safety, there are many questions about how the consumption of marijuana will affect their business. President and CEO of The Chamber, Craig Whitney said: “Some people believe that if a company has a drug policy it will take precedent over this measure. The reality is, that is an unanswered question. The North Dakota Supreme Court has previously held that employers cannot punish an employee for engaging in legal behavior that occurs on that employee’s personal time. Because marijuana remains in a person’s system for so long, and it is difficult to test for impairment, it creates a no-win situation for employers.” Additionally, for businesses that interact with the federal government, marijuana is still federally illegal. The lack of regulatory requirements and over broadness will undoubtedly lead to an unstable environment for businesses where certainty and consistency are limited. For businesses to expand and grow, a stable economy and workforce is crucial, this measure provides just the opposite. Mark Nisbet, chair of The Chamber’s Board of Directors said, “This measure is an overreach and leaves business owners with many unanswered questions on how they would be affected. This issue deserves serious discussions and safeguards must be put in place that protect business owners, employees and the customers they serve.”
Another concern for North Dakota residents is the negative fiscal impact of Measure 3. The State of North Dakota Office of Management and Budget recently estimated this measure will cost the state more than $6 million. Included in this figure are estimates from the Attorney General’s office, which would be required to expunge more than 170,000 marijuana-related criminal convictions within 30 days of the election. The issue of expungement of records is also extremely troubling as it too brings numerous uncertainties. “The question still hasn’t been answered as to what happens if there are two charges in the same charging document where one relates to marijuana and the other doesn’t,” Whitney said. “Prominent criminal defense attorneys are telling us that where these charges occur in the same document they cannot be uncoupled, resulting in the non-marijuana related convictions being expunged as well, which is highly concerning, especially considering violent crimes.
Proponents of Measure 3 argue there will be a financial benefit for North Dakota’s economy as a result of the sales tax revenue generated for the state. There is little indication that there will be a significant amount of benefit to offset the costs to the state. Unlike states like Colorado, which taxes marijuana at a 15% tax rate, the North Dakota Tax Commissioner stated that under this measure marijuana and paraphernalia would only be subject to the state’s 5% sales and use tax. Additionally, because Measure 3 does not place any restrictions on who may sell marijuana or how it may be sold, it leaves open the option of person-to-person sales, where there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what tax benefits the state may realize.
Of significant concern is the fact that Measure 3 contains a supremacy clause. This clause states that any language in the measure that conflicts with laws that already exist in the North Dakota Century Code overrule those existing laws. For example, this would mean that Measure 3 would allow marijuana in public places where smoking tobacco is currently prohibited, including in public.
With regard to the language in Measure 3, The Chamber has significant concerns related to the total lack of regulatory requirements. The measure contains no language that limits activity including the growing and distribution of marijuana. Under the measure, any person could grow any quantity of marijuana in any location. Measure 3 also states that “No person over the age of 21 shall be prosecuted in any court for any non-violent marijuana-related activity,” an example of which would be driving under the influence. Under this measure, driving under the influence, in any concentration of marijuana, would not be a crime. “Our Chamber members are concerned over the broadness of the specific language in this measure,” Whitney said. “If it passes, North Dakota will have the most lenient laws regarding marijuana of any state that has legalized it recreationally thus far.”
The Chamber found all these things have a direct effect on the community and thus an indirect effect on the business community. As a result The Chamber Board voted to unanimously oppose Measure 3 and recommends its members, and members of the community, oppose Measure 3, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use.
About The Chamber
The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce is a bi-state, regional federation of more than 2,100 private, public and non-profit member firms representing more than 109,000 people. The largest local chamber in North Dakota and Minnesota, The Chamber advocates for a strong metropolitan community and supports the interests of its members, which are located in Cass and Clay Counties and beyond.