A backer of marijuana decriminalization efforts in the North Dakota Legislature said she was disappointed by an amended bill that advanced Wednesday.
A House-Senate conference committee agreed to reduce penalties for possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana from a Class B misdemeanor to an infraction, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000. As approved by the Senate earlier this month, the bill would have imposed a noncriminal fine of $250 for that amount of the drug.
But the new bill also bumps up penalties for possessing between an ounce and a half-pound of marijuana to a Class A misdemeanor, and having more than a half-pound would be a Class C felony. The latter offense carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Currently, state law imposes Class B misdemeanor penalties for possessing any amount of marijuana, though Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, said people carrying larger quantities can face charges for "intent to deliver."
Roers Jones, who sponsored a previous decriminalization bill that failed in the House, said she was disappointed by the committee's actions. She noted that an infraction still creates a criminal record.
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"It is absolutely not decriminalization," Roers Jones said of the updated bill.
Voters rejected a marijuana legalization ballot measure last year, but supporters are preparing for another run in 2020. Decriminalization backers have argued it could help alleviate criminal justice concerns stemming from such a push.
Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, called the amended bill a "happy medium because the Legislature clearly is addressing the issue."
The full House and Senate still have to approve the bill before it can go to the governor's desk.