BISMARCK — Efforts to decriminalize marijuana offenses aren’t dead in the North Dakota Legislature, with the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee backing a measure to reduce penalties for possessing a small amount of the drug.
Sen. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, has drafted a bill amendment lowering penalties for possessing a half-ounce or less of marijuana for the first time to a noncriminal offense with a $500 fine. That’s currently a Class B misdemeanor.
A second offense under Larson’s amendment would be an infraction, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000. A third violation returns to a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine.
The North Dakota House dismissed a marijuana decriminalization bill last month. That bill’s primary sponsor, Fargo Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, said she supports Larson’s amendment even though it doesn’t go as far as her bill.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
The decriminalization efforts came after North Dakota voters rejected a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana in November. Decriminalization supporters have argued the legislation is meant to address housing and career hardships created by a criminal record.
The head of the group representing North Dakota’s county prosecutors previously said the court system has already been “slapping people on the hands” when they’re caught with a small amount of marijuana.
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, and the state's first dispensary opened in recent days.