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A bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession in North Dakota quietly received the governor's signature in early May 2019, making the state the 25th in the United States to remove the threat of jail time for possessing small amounts of cannabis.

While Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill on May 2, 2019, his office apparently did not make an effort to publicize the reform step and it appears to have gone unnoticed by local media, with pro-cannabis advocacy group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) first reporting the development on May 8, 2019.

North Dakota has previously been ranked among the highest in the country in per capita marijuana possession arrests, so this move is a huge step forward,” Carly Wolf, State Policies Coordinator for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “North Dakotans no longer need to fear the threat of jail time or the collateral consequences that result from an arrest record for low-level possession of a plant.”

The legislation means that first-time offenders caught possessing a half-ounce, or 14.2 grams, or less of cannabis will be subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 and no jail time or criminal record. Individuals could be charged with a misdemeanor if they get additional possession infractions over the course of a year.

In addition, the bill will reduce penalties for possession of larger amounts of marijuana. Possession of more than half an ounce but less than 500 grams will be considered a class B misdemeanor instead of a felony, and possession of anything greater than 500 grams, or a little less than 18 ounces, will be a class A misdemeanor, also lowered from a felony.

Possession of paraphernalia to use marijuana will be treated as an infraction. The new penalties will go into effect on August 1, 2019

“This legislation is far from ideal, but it is a substantial step in the right direction,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a press release. “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,” he said.

Lawmakers can no longer ignore public support for marijuana policy reform, which is growing quickly in every part of the country. Click To Tweet

The bill also calls on legislative management to “consider studying the implications of the potential adoption of an initiated measure allowing the use of recreational marijuana” and specifies that the study “must consider the potential benefits and detriments of legalizing recreational marijuana.”

North Dakota voters rejected a far-reaching marijuana legalization ballot measure in 2018 although activists already have said they plan to try again with a more narrowly tailored initiative in 2020.

Cannabis decriminalization seemed to be dead in North Dakota this session after the House rejected a similar proposal in a narrow vote in February 2019. But following the vote, the bill's sponsor told Marijuana Moment that lawmakers were “working on a workaround.”

After much legislative maneuvering, the new proposal was sent to the governor on April 26, 2019.

Burgum announced that he signed a package of bills in early May 2019, but made no mention of the cannabis legislation. A press release generally referred to a “renewed spirit of collaboration with legislators to fund our priorities, make strategic investments and balance the budget without raising taxes.”

2019 appears to be shaping up to be a big year for decriminalization, with states long considered hostile to marijuana reform advancing various bills to reduce penalties for simple possession.

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham already signed decriminalization into law in early 2019, for example, and similar legislation is currently on the desk of Hawaii's Democratic Gov. David Ige. In Texas, the House of Representatives approved a cannabis decriminalization bill. And in Alabama, a Senate committee unanimously approved a similar bill, although another version was rejected by a House committee on May 8, 2019.

This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here.