Marijuana laws in North Dakota have undergone considerable changes over the past couple years. Most recently, an attempt to decriminalize recreational weed failed by a relatively narrow margin. At the same time, however, the state is making progress on the medical marijuana front, as North Dakota’s first-ever medical marijuana dispensary is slated to open shop next week.
Decriminalization Bill Fails
Yesterday, lawmakers in the North Dakota House voted on a new bill that called for the decriminalization of cannabis. Unfortunately for marijuana advocates in the state, the bill did not pass. It lost in a 47-43 vote.
The bill would have made some significant changes to state laws. Of course, it would not have made recreational weed legal. But lawmakers supporting the bill saw it as a chance to reduce the social harm caused by prohibition, without going as far as full scale legalization.
The proposed change would have made it so that possession of an ounce or less of weed would be a non-criminal offense. The maximum penalty would have been a $200 fine.
But since the bill failed, nothing has changed when it comes to North Dakota’s laws against recreational weed. Under these longstanding rules, possession of less than one ounce of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor. As such, it carries penalties of up to 30-days in jail and up to $1,500 in fines.
And it goes up from there. Specifically, possession of more than an ounce is a felony in North Dakota. Felony level cannabis offenses can carry penalties as high as $20,000 in fines and 20 years in jail.
Local sources report that judges rarely sentence people that severely. But without a formal decriminalization bill, such heavy handed sentences remain are possible.
But Don’t Worry, At Least There’s Medical Cannabis
While the failure of North Dakota’s decriminalization bill may be a setback to larger legalization movements, the state’s medical marijuana program is about to hit a key milestone.
On Feb. 28, North Dakota’s first-ever medical cannabis dispensary is slated to open its doors. The shop will be called The Botanist. And it will open in the city of Fargo.
This marks the ongoing evolution and growth of medical marijuana in North Dakota. Voters in the state first approved the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes back in 2016. The medical marijuana bill won by a 63-37 percent margin.
Since then, state officials have been working to finalize legal and regulatory frameworks. Additionally, potential business owners have been turning in applications and officials have begun the process of issuing licenses.
So far, there are two medical marijuana manufacturing business in the state. One is located in Fargo, and the other is located in Bismarck.
Along with the dispensary scheduled to open next week, state regulators hope to have dispensaries up and running in a total of eight cities this year.
Under the state’s current medical marijuana laws, there are 17 health conditions that qualify for access to medical cannabis. To date, there have been roughly 120 medical marijuana cards issued to patients and care providers. But experts have predicted to see upwards of 4,000 patients participating in the program within the next two to three years.