Lawmakers introduce bill to expand marijuana decriminalization as advocates set the stage for 2022 legalization push
Last update: January 14, 2021
After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted efforts to gather signatures for a 2020 marijuana legalization initiative, activists are moving ahead with a renewed campaign to end marijuana prohibition through a voter referendum in 2022. The group submitted petition language to the North Dakota Secretary of State in early January and will have one year to gather signatures once it is approved. The initiative, identical to the 2020 version, would amend the North Dakota Constitution to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and will require roughly 27,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the North Dakota Legislative Assembly are pushing to further reduce harsh and senseless penalties for adults caught with small amounts of marijuana. A successful 2019 reform removed the possibility of jail time for having up to half an ounce, but possession remains a criminal infraction, which means it still goes on an individual's record. Making possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and/or paraphernalia a noncriminal matter altogether, as HB 1201 does, would be an important step in the right direction. The legislation would also reduce the maximum fine for possession from $1,000 to $50. Though decriminalization is no substitute for legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults, as several of North Dakota's neighbors have now done, passage of this bill would continue the trend of progress the state has seen in recent years.
North Dakota becomes 25th state to eliminate jail time for low-level marijuana possession!
With Gov. Doug Burgum’s signature on House Bill 1050, North Dakota removed jail time penalties for adults 21 and older who possess up to half an ounce of marijuana in May 2019. The final legislation was the product of a conference committee made up of members from the House and Senate of North Dakota’s Republican-controlled state legislature.
North Dakota’s new law went into effect on August 1 last year. It reclassifies possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana as an infraction punishable by no jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000. Previously, it was a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail in addition to a fine. The bill also reclassifies penalties for possession offenses involving amounts greater than a half ounce, and it calls on the Legislative Assembly to study adult-use legalization. A detailed summary of HB 1050 is available here.