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Mike Jacobs: Consequential questions on ND ballot

Who wins the U.S. Senate race isn't the only question of consequence that North Dakotans will decide in the election to be held four weeks from today.

Marijuana is another.

Of these two, the vote on recreational marijuana may have wider repercussions. North Dakota would be the 10th state to legalize marijuana use, and far and away the most conservative to do so. Legal marijuana here would speed the movement nationwide.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know something about marijuana. I remember both the first time and the last time that I used it, which should take care of the notion that marijuana causes memory loss, one of several slurs against the plant.

Such slurs have shown up in opinion columns offered by people I respect, but most of the arguments have been debunked long ago. Rather than being a harmful substance, marijuana has proven of substantial benefit in treating a wide variety of ailments, as North Dakotans recognized by legalizing medicinal marijuana two years ago.

That measure proved problematic. Opponents of medicinal marijuana warned of these problems, but voters approved it anyway. The legislature mustered the two-thirds votes necessary to make constructive changes. The same tactic is being used against the recreational marijuana measure, and the same remedy will be available.

Opponents also raise the cost of legalization, another red herring. The "fiscal impact" suggested by the state Health Department is inflated; it imagines a multi-million-dollar campaign to discourage marijuana use. (Here's a nod of thanks to Rob Port for sharing this information on his "Say Anything Blog.")

Marijuana is far less destructive than alcohol; and the point is not insignificant in a state that ranks among the drunkest in the nation. Nor does marijuana cause the diseases and deaths that result from tobacco use.

Yet both alcohol and tobacco are legal, taxed and regulated.

Marijuana will become legal in Canada on Oct. 17, eight days from today. Canadians are looking forward to a business opportunity. Here are two headlines from the Huffington Post's Canadian edition: "Could Canada dominate the marijuana market?" from Sept. 30, and "Wall Street goes wild for Canadian pot companies," from Sept. 20 — a development that U.S. media also noted.

For me the essential issue is freedom for adults to decide whether to use marijuana. As for me, I plan to plant my first marijuana crop as soon as it's legal (and the soil warms up).

As to the Senate seat, developments last week could have impact.

The trade deal with Canada should be a plus for Kevin Cramer, since the last-minute agreement strengths the assertion that tough negotiating brings more favorable trade deals, and that short-term pain justifies long-term gain, notwithstanding damage to historic markets and alliances.

Republican Cramer has been the state's only U.S. House member since 2012. He's been a consistent supporter of the president, and his loyalty is widely regarded — within and outside the state — as a significant advantage in the race.

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp was elected to the Senate on the same day Cramer won his House seat. Her vote against Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court should benefit her campaign, since it supports her narrative that she is an independent willing to work with Trump but that she won't be a rubber stamp. She did support the president's first Supreme Court nominee, annoying some Democrats. That might not save her Senate seat, because the campaign has been "nationalized" and local issues, even local loyalties, have been pushed aside.

The tone of the campaign should benefit Heitkamp; much advertising by interest groups opposing her has been exaggerated and extremely shrill. Which is more believable, for example: That Cramer is indifferent to farmers? Or that Heitkamp slaughters Syrian children? That charge came from an out-of-state political action committee, but an ad featuring "Beth from Bathgate" condemns Heitkamp as being "so radical on abortion." Beth represents an organization that sponsored the so-called "life amendment" that got 36 percent of the vote in 2014.

Published polls show Heitkamp behind, and she probably is. Polls in 2012 showed a similar situation, and she won. My own guess is that this year's polls are even less predictive, because polling has become more difficult, with responders harder to reach and less willing to cooperate.

Heitkamp's narrow victory in 2012 followed the same patient, focused campaign that she's conducting this year. One of my Republican friends said the other day, "I'd be a whole lot more comfortable if the election were this week instead of next month."

As for me, I'm hedging my bets, and I probably will be until the polls close.

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Herald.

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