Governor of North Dakota quietly signs Bill to lessen penalties for pot possession

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North Dakota may not be the most publicly visible state when it comes to cannabis laws. The most recent example of the state’s relative quiet when it comes to weed is the fact that the governor just signed a new bill to lower the penalties for marijuana possession—and the whole thing happened without a whole lot of fanfare. Regardless, the move represents what could be a big step for cannabis law in North Dakota.

 

North Dakota’s New Marijuana Policy

A review of the website for North Dakota’s Legislative Branch shows that House Bill 1050 has completed its journey through the legislative process. Most recently, it was officially signed into law by Governor Doug Burgum earlier this month.

Importantly, this bill enacts a number of changes to the state’s cannabis policies. Under the terms of the new bill, the following changes will now become law:

  • A first time offense of possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis will now be a simple infraction. As a result, the first time a person is caught with weed, they will face only a fine. Prior to House Bill 1050, possession of marijuana was considered a misdemeanor, which meant a person could serve jail time.
  • Possession of more than a half-ounce of weed, but less than 500 grams, will no longer be a felony carrying the possibility of up to five years in prison. Instead, this will now be a class B misdemeanor.
  • Possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana will also no longer be considered a felony. Instead, it will now be classified as class A misdemeanor.
  • House Bill 1050 lessens the punishment for being caught with weed-related paraphernalia. As with possession of marijuana, this is now a simple infraction instead of an all-out criminal misdemeanor.

As per the North Dakota Legislative Branch website, House Bill 1050 was introduced in early January of this year. From there, it moved through various hearings and multiple rounds of revisions and amendments.

The bill was eventually approved by the North Dakota House and Senate in late April. Then, most recently, Gov. Burgum quietly signed House Bill 1050 into law on May 1.

The bill will finally go into full effect later this year, on August 1.

The Evolution of Cannabis Law in North Dakota

The passage of House Bill 1050 into law marks the newest stage in North Dakota’s evolving cannabis laws.

Voters in the state approved the legalization of medical marijuana in November 2016. During that year’s elections, North Dakota was one of four states to legalize medical marijuana.

Following the 2016 vote, state lawmakers spent years finalizing the medical marijuana program. To date, there are two medical marijuana manufacturing businesses in the state.

And it wasn’t until this year that the first actual dispensary was finally scheduled to open shop. By year end, lawmakers have said they hope to have dispensaries operating in eight cities across the state.

Also this year, a decriminalization bill failed to pass. In February, a bill that would have fully decriminalized the possession of marijuana lost in a relatively close 47-43 vote. Now, House Bill 1050 could function in many ways as a stop-gap replacement for that failed decriminalization bill.

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