North Dakota lawmakers have introduced a bill to significantly expand marijuana decriminalization in the state.
The legislation, which was filed on Monday, would build on an initial cannabis decriminalization law that was enacted in 2019.
Under the current statute, possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, with no jail time. The new proposal would make possession of up to an ounce a non-criminal offense that carries a $50 fine.
Further, possession of more than one ounce and less than 250 grams would be treated as an infraction, rather than a class B misdemeanor, as it is currently classified.
Possessing more than 250 grams of marijuana would be a class B misdemeanor and possessing more than 500 grams would be a class A misdemeanor.
The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R) and Sen. Scott Meyer (R) in their respective chambers. It’s been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
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“It’s encouraging to see Rep. Roers Jones and her colleagues continue the push to reduce harsh and senseless penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in North Dakota,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Decriminalization is no substitute for legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults, as several of North Dakota’s neighbors have now done. But passage of this bill would continue the trend of progress the state has seen in recent years.”
Activists are moving forward with plans to put a cannabis legalization ballot initiative before voters in 2022.
The measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use, was submitted to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday. If its language is accepted, the campaign will be able to start signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.
The same team behind the new initiative came close to putting a similar measure on the state’s ballot last year, but petitioning efforts were impeded by the coronavirus pandemic.
A separate group of advocates, Legalize ND, also attempted to qualify a different legalization initiative in 2020 that would have allowed retail sales but excluded a home grow option. That organization is also considering plans for its own 2022 measure.
Previously, a 2018 legalization push that did qualify for the ballot was defeated. Voters in the state did approve a measure to legalize medical cannabis in 2016, though the law was scaled down by the legislature the following year.
While activists are skeptical that the legislature has the appetite to enact the policy change on their own, it is the case that lawmakers may feel increased pressure given that voters in neighboring South Dakota and Montana elected to legalize cannabis in November.
Read the new North Dakota marijuana decriminalization bill below: