Earlier this month, Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed HB 1050 into law. The bill’s passage changed the penalty for first-time offenders caught with up to half an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a minor infraction and fine in the state of North Dakota.
The move went largely unnoticed by local and national media outlets.
According to Section 3 of the bill, “A person who violates this subsection by possessing…marijuana in an amount of less than one-half ounce (14.175 grams) is guilty of an infraction.”
This shift in policy is significant because, previously, residents of North Dakota caught with small amounts of cannabis received a misdemeanor charge on their record, and even risked facing some jail time.
Although not as impactful as legalization, decriminalization is an important and necessary step towards achieving criminal justice for those currently incarcerated. Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states and Washington D.C., and 9 of those have gone ahead and legalized recreational cannabis altogether. Despite these advances, United States citizens continue to be arrested, charged, and at times, sent to jail for low-level marijuana-related crimes, such as possession.
NORML Takes A Stand
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), one of the largest pro-cannabis lobbying organizations in America, has been at the forefront of decriminalization efforts in North Dakota.
In a recent interview with Marijuana Movement following the passage of HB 1050, NORML’s state policies coordinator, Carly Wolf, had this to say:
“North Dakota has previously been ranked among the highest in the country in per capita marijuana possession arrests, so this move is a huge step forward. North Dakotans no longer need to fear the threat of jail time or the collateral consequences that result from an arrest record for low-level possession of a plant.”
Along with NORML, groups like the Marijuana Policy Project have been working tirelessly to end the criminalization of cannabis.
According to Marijuana Policy Project director, Matthew Schweich, “This legislation is far from ideal, but it is a substantial step in the right direction. It is very encouraging to see a conservative state like North Dakota acknowledge and rectify the injustice of jailing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Lawmakers can no longer ignore public support for marijuana policy reform, which is growing quickly in every part of the country.”
Last year, a controversial bill to make recreational cannabis legal in North Dakota without any regulation failed to be voted into North Dakota law, with residents voting 59% against the initiative. Voters will have another go at the issue in 2020, with plans for a less liberal piece of legislation currently underway.
Efforts towards marijuana decriminalization are happening across the country. Texas and Hawaii are both in the process of decriminalizing cannabis, and similar legislation was recently signed into law by New Mexico’s Governor. The Alabama senate recently approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana as well, however, the bill failed to make it to the Governor’s desk, following its rejection by the Alabama House of Representatives.