North Dakota Stops Arresting Folks for a Little Cannabis—Finally

Published on May 9, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
A record 53% of Republicans now support legalization, Gallup reports. (csfotoimages/iStock)
A record 53% of Republicans now support legalization, Gallup reports. (csfotoimages/iStock)

The conservative midwestern state of North Dakota has jumped aboard the cannabis law reform train this morning, becoming the 25th state to end jail time for a little marijuana. Better late than never!

On May 2, Gov. Doug Burgum signed HB 1050 into law, making possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis by adults 21 and older the equivalent of a parking ticket, albeit an expensive one. The infraction is punishable by no jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000. That’s still better than before, where even a crumb of cannabis was a misdemeanor that could get you 30 days in county jail.

Amid widespread marijuana liberalization nationwide, half of North Dakota’s drug arrests were pot arrests in 2016, totaling 3,362 that year—up 62% over five years. Cannabis is legal in neighboring Canada, and medical cannabis is legal in neighboring Montana and Minnesota. North Dakota also has a bare-bones medical cannabis program calling for eight stores, with no home growing allowed.

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Cannabis law reform group Marijuana Policy Project said more work needs to be done in the so-called Roughrider State.

“This legislation is far from ideal, but it is a substantial step in the right direction,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “It is very encouraging to see a conservative state like North Dakota acknowledge and rectify the injustice of jailing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Lawmakers can no longer ignore public support for marijuana policy reform, which is growing quickly in every part of the country.”

Gallup polls suggest 66% of Americans support legalization, including 53% of Republicans. That’s the highest level of support Gallup has found in nearly 40 years of polling.

Burgum has also signed bills expanding medical cannabis in North Dakota, and the newly passed decrim bill also downgrades penalties for possessing more than a half ounce. HB 1050 also calls on the state’s Legislative Assembly to “consider studying the implications of the potential adoption of an initiated measure allowing the use of recreational marijuana.”

A group called “Legalize ND” is drafting a ballot measure intended for the 2020 general election. So that’s nice.

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David Downs
David Downs
Leafly Senior Editor David Downs is the former Cannabis Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He's appeared on The Today Show, and written for Scientific American, The New York Times, WIRED, Rolling Stone, The Onion A/V Club, High Times, and many more outlets. He is a 2023 judge for The Emerald Cup, and has covered weed since 2009.
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