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Recreational marijuana decriminalization bill endorsed for North Dakota House vote

Recreational marijuana decriminalization bill endorsed for North Dakota House vote

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North Dakota lawmakers already weighing whether to legalize and tax recreational marijuana also will decide a bill to lessen criminal penalties for possession.

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, on Tuesday introduced House Bill 1201 to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and related paraphernalia.

"Basically 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," she told the committee. "What we've recognized is this affects people's ability to find jobs, housing, etc. in the future. It affects their ability to be successful."

The bill is similar to one that failed in the 2019 Legislature, which did pass a law making possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana an infraction, punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine. Previously it was a more serious misdemeanor offense.

Roers Jones said her bill possibly "may not be necessary" if a bill to legalize marijuana passes.

Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, has brought House Bill 1420, which would legalize and restrict recreational marijuana. Another bill, House Bill 1501, would implement a related tax policy.

Both bills await House votes. Roers Jones said she would ask the Senate to defeat her bill if Dockter's bill passes the House and Senate. 

The committee gave Roers Jones' bill an 8-4 do-pass recommendation.

Also on Tuesday, Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, introduced House Concurrent Resolution 3031 to the committee. The measure would put to voters whether to legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, via the state constitution.

"The goal is to bring the whole thing aboveboard, get rid of criminal activity, quit ruining people's lives over things that are really rather minor," Nelson told the committee.

If approved by the Legislature, the measure would be voted on in November 2022, to take effect in August 2023.

The committee gave the resolution a 10-2 do-not-pass recommendation, with some representatives opposing a constitutional measure.

A proposed citizen-initiated ballot measure also would legalize marijuana through the constitution.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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