Ever since Measure 3 failed — which would have legalized recreational marijuana in North Dakota — many have looked to a piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R – District 46) as an alternative to legalization. In what was a stunning outcome to many, Rep. Roers Jones’ bill was defeated today on a vote of 43-47.
House Bill 1155 proposed the decriminalization of marijuana by making the manufacturing, delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver marijuana “guilty of a noncriminal offense punishable by a fee of two hundred dollars”. In a nutshell, those with one ounce or less would have been fined, instead of arrested.
This wasn’t the first time this type of proposal has come before the North Dakota House. In 2017, Rep. Rick Becker (R – District 7) proposed decriminalization in the form of House Bill 1340. That bill failed by a vote of 35-54. Interesting enough, Rep. Roers Jones opposed Becker’s bill in 2017. But after defeat of Measure 3 back in November, news outlets reported that she’d had a change of heart on the subject that led to her own efforts in crafting legislation for decriminalization.
Just as news reports had mentioned in recent months, one of those who worked with Roers Jones on her bill was former Burleigh County Sheriff, Representative Pat Heinert (R – District 32). Heinert’s involvement in the bill was somewhat surprising. After all, he too had vehemently opposed Becker’s bill in 2017 and had been very critical of the idea of decriminalization. And while he urged a green vote on HB 1155 today, he was adamant that he wasn’t happy with parts of the bill and wanted them fixed on the Senate side, if it passed. At one point, he even said he wouldn’t hold it against those who voted red.
The comments that most interested me in today’s debate though came from Rep. Chuck Damschen (R – District 10). While urging his colleagues to oppose the bill, he mentioned that in his opinion the people had spoke clearly by defeating Measure 3 and that he was voting against it because of that.
I think Rep. Damschen is horribly mistaken. While it’s true that Measure 3 was defeated, let’s not forget that over 40% of the people voted for it without all the regulations so many in opposition called for. If Measure 3 had those regulations, we’d have legalization of marijuana in North Dakota today.
The North Dakota House may live to regret rejecting decriminalization. It just may be that the defeat of HB 1155 now becomes the catalyst for total legalization of marijuana in North Dakota.
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