North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, formally announcing his candidacy on June 7, 2023.
The governor has approved several marijuana policy reforms at the state level, though he’s stopped short of embracing adult-use legalization and opposed ballot initiatives to enact such a system in his state.
Among the bills that Burgum has signed during his tenure are ones to decriminalize simple possession, increase allowable THC limits for medical cannabis and allow people in hospice care to self-certify as medical marijuana patients. He’s also called for congressional reform to decriminalize cannabis and resolve the state-federal conflict on marijuana banking.
Also, the candidate has touted marijuana-related pardons that he’s issued after personally reviewing people’s records.
While he’s been willing to sign reform bills, he also approved legislation to scale back protections in the state’s medical cannabis program—including the elimination of a policy allowing patients to cultivate cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Burgum’s competitors for the GOP nomination include former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).
Here’s where Republican presidential candidate Doug Burgum stands on marijuana:
Legislation And Policy Actions
The governor signed legislation in 2019 that decriminalized low-level marijuana possession in North Dakota, making it so first-time offenders caught possessing half an ounce or less of cannabis are subject to a fine of up to $1,000 without the thread of jail time.
In March 2023, Burgum approved a bill allowing patients admitted to hospice care to self-certify as medical marijuana patients. Under the law, terminally ill patients are able to use proof of their admittance in hospice care in lieu of a doctor’s written recommendation to register as a medical cannabis patient.
He’s also made a point of promoting executive pardons that he’s issued following the enactment of decriminalization. In 2020, for example, he granted relief to 16 people with prior cannabis convictions who submitted summary pardon applications under a streamlined process that was established by the state’s Pardon Advisory Board.
Approved 16 pardons today for low-level marijuana offenses through a new, streamlined process. By removing the stigma of these minor offenses, we can offer people a second chance at a healthy, productive life & help address our state’s workforce shortage. https://t.co/bxoAdr9a72
— Gov. Doug Burgum (@GovDougBurgum) January 17, 2020
“These pardons are consistent with our recent efforts with the Legislature to reduce the penalties for low-level marijuana offenses and eliminate barriers to employment created by often distant past offenses, as well as with our approach of treating addiction like the disease that it is,” Burgum said. “By removing the stigma of these minor offenses, we can offer individuals a second chance at a successful, healthy and productive life and help address our state’s workforce shortage.”
“Every recommended pardon is carefully reviewed with a strong focus on public safety and victims’ rights to ensure that the pardon is solving a problem for an individual and not creating one for society,” he added.
He pardoned 24 more people with cannabis convictions on their records in November 2020. A spokesperson told The Associated Press that the governor “personally reviews each recommendation very carefully” from the board, and it’s a “responsibility he takes very seriously.”
Following the restructuring of the state’s medical cannabis program under a bill he signed, the governor in 2021 sought applicants to serve on North Dakota’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.
“Your leadership and commitment of time, energy and talent has contributed to the Board’s progress and successes,” Burgum said in a letter to board members who were statutorily obligated to resign under the revised law. “The Board’s foundational work was integral to establishing a medical marijuana program with sound and reasonable guidelines and will impact the lives of North Dakotans for generations to come.”
In 2019, he signed HB 1283, which eased restrictions on participation in the program, including by allowing military veterans to use diagnoses from the federal U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in lieu of a doctor’s recommendation to qualify as a medical cannabis patient in the state.
Burgum also approved legislation in 2023 that allowed certain patients to purchase up to six ounces of cannabis in a 30-day period and possess up to 7.5 ounces at one time in their residence.
In 2021, he signed off on a hemp bill that included regulations for delta-8 THC products that legislators said was intended to prevent sales of items with high concentrations of the cannabinoid.
Also that year, the governor signed a measure that united the state’s health and human services departments into one entity, which also included incorporating the health agency’s medical marijuana division.
He signed legislation in 2021 that eliminated a $50 application fee for medical cannabis caregivers, expanded the number of patients that caregivers could work with and revised the members of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. He touted that bill in a roundup of accomplishments at the end of that year’s legislative session.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Burgum issued an executive order that outlined the types of businesses that would need to suspend certain operations and those that could continue to stay open, with medical cannabis dispensaries being able to continue serving patients.
To the disappointment of certain advocates, however, Burgum signed legislation in 2017 that revised the state’s medical cannabis program in several ways, including the elimination of a home cultivation right for patients.
On The Campaign Trail
It does not appear that Burgum has publicly commented on marijuana policy issues since announcing his candidacy.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
While Burgum has said that he doesn’t want to see “full, unfettered legalization of recreational marijuana,” he described a 2022 adult-use legalization ballot measure that voters ultimately rejected as “very reasonable.”
He was less open to an earlier cannabis measure in 2018, encouraging voters to “educate themselves on the specific wording and far-reaching implications of all ballot measures.”
The governor has also said that he wants to see congressional lawmakers move to decriminalize marijuana and that federal cannabis banking reform legislation “seems way overdue.”
“As long as there’s prohibitions on anyone banking from the cannabis industry in the banking system, it’s just absolutely creating a moral hazard that you’re creating a cash economy around all the things that go on,” he said, adding that he “absolutely” aligns himself with members of Congress who are working to resolve the issue.
In 2019, Burgum spoke with the head of the state’s health department about its work implementing North Dakota’s medical cannabis program under a 2016 voter-approved initiative, thanking the office for “both the speed and the care that your team has delivered in in getting us to where we are today.”
The governor remarked that he’s personally met with people who’ve “sought and found real relief” with medical marijuana.
On the latest episode of the podcast, State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte joins us to discuss the medical marijuana program, child immunizations and some of the other ways in which the @NDDOH is supporting healthy lives for all North Dakotans. Check it out! https://t.co/LXdjXdAntW
— Gov. Doug Burgum (@GovDougBurgum) July 15, 2019
A spokesperson for Burgum also affirmed in 2018 that the governor supported legislative efforts to decriminalize marijuana after an effort to legalize for adult use fell short.
Burgum has generally criticized drug criminalization, saying in February 2023 that the drug war “can become a war on people who have a health issue.”
North Dakota takes the approach that “if you’re going to have a war on drugs…it can become a war on people who have a health issue” Gov. @DougBurgum tells @margbrennan. We have to understand “that if people have the disease of addiction, it’s not a moral choice or a failure.” pic.twitter.com/vaFgWYj7PW
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 12, 2023
He added that “if people have the disease of addiction, it’s not a moral choice or a failure.”
In 2019, the governor touted the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program as an example of the “progress” of citizen-focused agencies.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
It does not appear that Burgum has publicly commented about any personal experience with cannabis.
Marijuana Under A Burgum Presidency
Burgum has voiced support for federal cannabis reform, from banking to decriminalization. While he’s expressed opposition to some state-level legalization models proposed by activists at the ballot, he called the latest iteration “very reasonable.”
While Burgum has signed a number of bills that expanded the state’s medical cannabis program, he’s faced criticism from certain advocates for also approving legislation that removed what’s considered a critical right to home cultivation for patients.
All told, the governor has one of the more established cannabis policy records among GOP contenders for the party’s presidential nomination. And many of the actions he’s taken as governor have favored reform, even if he didn’t proactively advocate for each of the policy changes—indicating that he would be likely to sign cannabis reform bills if sent to his desk by Congress, though it’s not clear to what extent a Burgum administration would actively champion reform.
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