Lawmakers Seek to Lighten Marijuana Penalties in North Dakota

Marijuana is lawmaker's minds during the legislative session in North Dakota

A bill to decriminalize marijuana is under discussion in the North Dakota legislature.

Republican State Representative Rick Becker of Bismarck introduced the bill to help cut state spending.

Bill 1340 is not set up to fully legalize marijuana.

Instead, this would make penalties for possessing and selling the drug less harsh.

Using or selling marijuana would get you a $1,000 with no prison sentence, if it passes.

Without the bill, it is punishable with a year in prison and up to $3,000 in fines.

“We’re a pretty big proponent of this one actually,” said Rilie Ray Morgan, a leader of Measure 5, which legalized medical marijuana in North Dakota after getting a 63% yes vote in 2016. “We think it’s time. We just don’t need to keep stuffing our jails and overpopulating our prisons with people that are obviously minor criminals. This is really a minor issue. It should not be considered a felon.”

Public records show of the 333 inmates in the Cass County Jail, 35 of them are being held on marijuana related charges; this is roughly 10 percent.

Becker says the primary goal of the bill is to cut back on taxpayer dollars spent on marijuana offenses.

“It also has a lot to do with the changing attitude that smoking marijuana is a crime that doesn’t have any victims and sending people to jail for that does not seem to be an appropriate punishment.”

He says the bill was inspired by Andrew Sadek, a 20-year-old drug informant who was found dead in 2014.

“How is it possible that a college kid that had a couple of dealings with marijuana, with a total of $80 worth, was told he was looking at 40 years in prison?” said Becker.

Democratic State Representative Marvin Nelson wants lawmakers in the state to look at legalizing it as a whole.

“There’s a general feeling that we’ve probably been too strict on marijuana in particular,” said Nelson. “So I think we’re going to see some easing this session.”

As for medical marijuana, Morgan says the legislator is allowing the Department of Health to decide on the rules and regulations.

This means patients might have to wait until summer of 2018 before receiving medical marijuana.

“It’s way too slow a process,” said Morgan, talking about the post election process for Measure 5. “It’s horrible. We’re appalled.”

Opponents of the bill say this is too dramatic of a step, and think it would not have the desired effect on jail populations.

The bill has been heard in committee.

House Representatives have yet to vote on it at this time.

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