Panel reviews North Dakota ballot measure costs; pot is tops

September 13, 2018
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the state Capitol in Bismarck, Joe Morrissette, left, state director of the Office of Management and Business, testifies in front of the Legislative Management Committee regarding initiative Measure 3, the legalization of recreational marijuana, and the possible financial impact it could have on North Dakota if the voters pass it in November. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A measure to legalize marijuana in North Dakota would cost more than $2 million annually for the first three years if it’s approved, though tax revenue and other fees generated from the sales are not yet known, according to agency estimates provided to lawmakers Wednesday.

The Legislative Management Committee, which includes the Legislature’s Republican and Democratic floor leaders, accepted agencies’ assessments as part of a review of November’s four ballot measures and their potential budget consequences for North Dakota state government.

The agencies’ assessments will be made public through the secretary of state’s office.

Backers of the marijuana proposal seek to legalize pot for people 21 and older. Approval of the measure also would seal the records of people in North Dakota convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be made legal under the measure.

The state attorney general’s office estimated 124 temporary workers would have to be hired at a cost of $1.1 million to “expunge” nearly 180,000 pot-related criminal records.

Other costs include an estimate by the state Health Department which wants to spend more than $4 million in the next two-year budget cycle for additional staff and an education campaign aimed at “the health impact and physical addiction attributed to marijuana use among youth.”

Democratic House Minority Leader Cory Mock of Grand Forks and Bismarck Democratic Sen. Erin Oban, spoke against including Health Department’s assessment because the education component, that they said is probably needed, was not part of the measure’s intent.

State budget director Joe Morrissette told The Associated Press that the some of the estimated cost of pot legalization would be made up by sales tax and other fees.

“Some positive revenue impacts that are indeterminable at this time,” he said.

North Dakotans also will vote in November on whether to provide specialized vehicle license plates free of charge to volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders.

In its fiscal note to lawmakers, the state Transportation Department estimates the measure would cost more than $17 million over the next decade through lost licensing fees and free admission to state parks for vehicles that display the special license plates. Officials estimate there are more than 11,000 volunteer emergency workers in the state who would qualify.

Voters also will be asked in November to amend the North Dakota constitution to include a sweeping government ethics overhaul. The initiative billed as an “anti-corruption amendment” would ban foreign money from elections, restrict lobbying and create an independent ethics commission, among other provisions.

Morrissette, in a letter to lawmakers, said the cost of an ethics overhaul can’t be determined yet because it’s not known if any new employees would be needed. He said a whistleblower hotline to report alleged ethical missteps would cost about $28 a month.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said in a letter to lawmakers that the measure that would explicitly bar non-U.S. citizens from voting in North Dakota would have no fiscal impact because it does not change “election administrative procedures in state law.”

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