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Clarissa Poeppel, back, a proponent of Measure 3 to legalize recreational use of marijuana in North Dakota, hosts a watch party at a Mandan bar on Tuesday night. 

On Tuesday, North Dakotans rejected a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana by nearly 60 percent. But the chair of the group behind the ballot initiative said it's not over yet.

"It just goes to show that North Dakota wasn't ready for this bill and the people made the decision," David Owen, chair of Legalize ND, said Wednesday. "We're going to try again for full legalization, and we'll make sure the bill meets North Dakota standards."

The ballot measure language will be different, with input from those who opposed it, according to Owen, who said he's unsure when the group will try again and what the makeup of the group will be.

"We'll be back. I don't know in what shape or form," he said.

Meanwhile, some state lawmakers have signaled support for bill drafts pertaining to the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana and expungement of criminal records.

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, said, over the past year and a half, she's been working with criminal defense attorney Mark Friese on an expungement bill.

Similar to Measure 3, the attorney said her bill would expunge criminal records for certain people. But, unlike the measure, it extends beyond people with drug convictions.

Roers Jones said the bill would apply to people convicted of nonviolent crimes and non-sex offenders. Those with a misdemeanor can request to have their records sealed after three years, and felons can make a request after five years.

Also, she has a separate bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Currently, that is defined as an ounce or less, or less than six plants, though she said the language could be modified.

People caught with small amounts of marijuana would be fined, similar to a traffic offense, which, at some point, would disappear from a person's state criminal history.

"If someone was caught with a small quantity, they would pay a fine, but it wouldn't be something that would affect their ability to find housing, to get employment or to apply for a professional license," she said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.

The idea for the decriminalization bill sprang from conversations she had with Friese about flaws in Measure 3, which she voted against. Her concerns included automatic records expungement and the potential to impact employers' drug policies.

This isn't the first time a decriminalization bill has been introduced in the state Legislature. In 2017, Bismarck Republican Rep. Rick Becker sponsored a similar bill.

Roers Jones said she didn't support Becker's bill in 2017 because she didn't "recognize the value of passing a decriminalization (bill)."

"But, over the course of the session and the interim, I've been involved in a lot of things related to criminal justice reform," she said, adding that she believes more lawmakers this session will be open to the idea of decriminalization.

Gov. Doug Burgum also has expressed interest in decriminalization. On Tuesday, he told the Tribune that, though he voted against Measure 3, there were "some elements to (Measure) 3 that were certainly worthy of consideration, like decriminalization."

"We don't want to be tying up our judicial system with low-level, addiction-related, nonviolent crimes," Burgum said. "It ties into what we're trying to do with justice reinvestment."

Roers Jones said she's had a number of Republican legislators reach out to her in support of her bill drafts. Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck, has been providing input to Roers Jones on the decriminalization bill.

Heinert, who opposed the bill in 2017 because it was broad, said he would consider it this time around.

"I think we need to take a rational look at everything, and decriminalization is a rational look at this point in time," the outgoing Burleigh County sheriff said.

Becker said he would support the decriminalization bill. He believes his attempt in 2017 to get a bill passed opened the door for legislators, who he thinks now "will be more open to look at it objectively."

Owen, chair of Legalize ND, said he would like to work with Roers Jones on her bills.

Prior to drafting Measure 3, and while writing it, Owen said he reached out to Roers Jones, but she never returned his calls. Roers Jones said it wasn't an "intentional avoidance," and said she's open to working with the pro-marijuana group.

"I know there are some people who think we shouldn't take this step, and I know there's a lot of support after what we've seen with the campaign to legalize marijuana," she said. "I'm happy to get feedback from both sides of the issue so we can make sure that we pass the best bill that we can."

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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