BISMARCK — A day after shooting down a bill to legalize recreational marijuana use, the North Dakota Senate has defeated a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.
The upper chamber voted 32-13 on Friday, March 26, to kill House Bill 1201, which would've made it a noncriminal offense with a maximum $50 fine to possess up to one ounce, or 28.35 grams, of marijuana. It also would've reduced the criminal penalties for carrying larger amounts of pot. The House of Representatives approved the bill last month.
The Senate has shown a strong resistance to marijuana legislation this week, shutting down four bills related to the drug.
Two years ago, lawmakers passed legislation that took the penalty for possessing up to a half ounce of marijuana down from a Class B misdemeanor to an infraction, the lowest criminal offense.
But bill sponsor Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, and other supporters say even the reduced convictions for low-level marijuana offenses are excessive and generate unnecessary barriers to jobs and housing for those caught with pot.
Opponents believe the state has already watered down penalties for pot possession, and there isn't a need to further loosen the rules. Bismarck Republican Sen. Diane Larson said marijuana is "a dangerous drug" and noted that, in her opinion, decriminalizing it could lead to more use.
In attempting to persuade her colleagues to vote against the bill, Larson incorrectly referred to the bill as a legalization measure.
Fargo Republican Sen. Kristin Roers pointed out Larson's error, noting that the terms "legalization" and "decriminalization" are not interchangeable.