Officials Clarify: Marijuana is Not Decriminalized, Penalties are Lesser

A bill recently signed by Governor Burgum has many people asking: Is marijuana decriminalized?

Republican Representative Shannon Roers-Jones told KX News: House Bill 1050 does not actually decriminalize marijuana possession, but simply lessens the penalty if you’re caught with a small amount.

She says her goal was to make marijuana a fine-only offense, but by the end of the session that was changed to an infraction, for anyone carrying less than a half ounce. 

That’s how the bill stands today.

An infraction is the lowest level criminal offense, down from a B Misdemeanor.

Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer explains, “An infraction is still a criminal penalty, but it doesn’t involve any jail time. So the maximum sentence under an infraction is a $1,000 fine.”

In comparison, other infractions include writing a bad check for less than 100 dollars and selling tobacco to minors.

However, it’s important to note, you can still receive a B Misdemeanor on your third offense.

Lawyer adds, “It’s, you know, the 30 days in jail and the $1,500 fine, maximum.”

The Burleigh County State’s Attorney also says, by definition, this bill does not decriminalize marijuana.

An infraction will show up and stay on your criminal record. 

She explains, “It’s not a finger printable offense, since it’s an infraction now, which means if somebody does a criminal background check, it wouldn’t show up on that, like through BCI. But looking on the public court records, it would be there, yes.”

Bismarck Police Lieutenant Luke Gardiner says the bill won’t change the way law enforcement operates.

Lt. Gardiner adds, “The citation that you’re going to be receiving from an officer is still going to have a date in there, where you’re still going to have to show up for court. Marijuana is still going to be a crime, so if you’re in possession of it, it’s contraband, vehicles are still going to get searched.”

He says although some officers may have opinions one way or another, he can’t comment whether this is a positive or negative change for the department. He says it’s their job to follow the law as the lawmakers write it.

Bismarck Police seized close to 30 ounces of marijuana in 2018, compared to 227 back in 2017.

The bill also proposes a study that will look at the effects of legalizing marijuana. Representative Roers-Jones says it doesn’t mean the legislature intends to legalize it, but they want to know how it could impact the state.

The ‘lesser penalties’ bill, will go into effect August 1st.

KX News got the chance to sit down with the Chairman of Legalize ND.

He agrees, the bill does not fit the definition of decriminalization, but he says it’s progress.

The Chairman, David Owen, says he thinks even with the passage of this bill, It will affect peoples’ ability to get jobs, housing, student loans and much more.

He says if true decriminalization would have passed, meaning lawmakers got rid of the criminal record, he would not be pushing for legalization again in the upcoming election.

Owen shares, “But you can’t give these people criminal records for pot. You just can’t. It’s ridiculous.”

Owen is already traveling the state in preparation for the next election.

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