North Dakota lawmakers voted in committee on Tuesday to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana.
“We don’t want to create criminal records that are going to affect people into the future for possessing small quantities of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia,” Rep. Shannon Roers Jones said.
Roers Jones’s bill passed in the House Judiciary Committee by vote of 8 to 4.
It makes possessing up to an ounce of marijuana a civil instead of a criminal offense, which carries a lesser fine of $50, instead of the current infraction fine of up to $1,000.
“This is a good option that will provide us at least an initial step in the event that the legalization measure does not pass,” Roers Jones said.
Roers Jones referenced another bill under consideration this session, 1420, that would legalize marijuana, which differs from the decriminalization this bill provides.
There’s also another piece of legislation that would put the legalization question up to voters in 2022, and then regulate the drug.
“The object is not to make it so there’s no regulation whatsoever, but the idea is to say this is a legal substance, but not that this is an unregulated legal substance,” Rep. Marvin Nelson said.
The committee shot down that resolution, which sought to amend the state constitution, by a vote of 10-2.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, weighed in on both bills.
“Decriminalization would allow police and the courts to focus their resources on combating serious crime instead of otherwise law-abiding citizens,” State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf said.
Wolf says even if the bill doesn’t pass, there are other ways for the state to support legalization.
“If lawmakers fail to act on these issues, voters will definitely take it into their own hands as we’ve seen in previous years with statewide ballot measures,” Wolf said.
There are currently nine bills under consideration in the legislature related to marijuana, medical or otherwise. So far, 15 states plus D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana.