By a close margin, the North Dakota House rejected a bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession in the state on Wednesday.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R), would have removed criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce or two cannabis plants. Instead of the current misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine, simple possession would’ve been a non-criminal infraction that carries a $200 fine.
Individuals who are convicted of possessing more than an ounce of cannabis, a misdemeanor offense, could’ve had their court records sealed as long as they are “not subsequently convicted within two years of a further [marijuana] violation.” As the law currently stands, possession over an ounce is a felony offense.
Possessing marijuana paraphernalia would have also been treated as a non-criminal offense under the bill, punishable by a $100 fine. The proposal would have also created a misdemeanor penalty for anyone found guilty of distributing marijuana to an individual under 21.
Members of the House voted against the legislation in a 43-47 vote, with four abstentions.
Roers Jones told Marijuana Moment in an email after the vote that she and other supporters are “working on a work around.”
People found with under an ounce would be given a ticket (which is the practice in Fargo) to allow law enforcement the ability to focus on larger drug crimes (distribution/opioids/violence/theft).
— Joshua Boschee (@JoshBoschee) February 20, 2019
Gov. Doug Burgum (R) supports the proposal.
North Dakota voters rejected an adult use legalization initiative during the November midterm elections after voting to approve medical cannabis two years earlier, but lawmakers quickly got to work drafting more modest cannabis reform bills like Roers Jones’s decriminalization proposal.
“It’s a different way of looking at our criminal justice system rather than just meting out punishment and trying to figure out how to lead people towards rehabilitation and give them an opportunity to reset their lives,” she told Inforum.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.