North Dakota quietly decriminalized marijuana earlier this month, making it the 25th state to do so.
As the news outlet Marijuana Moment and the advocacy group NORML reported, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana last week — but the issue got little to no attention from his office or news media. The law makes it so first-time possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana is no longer a criminal misdemeanor that carries the potential for jail time, but instead is an infraction that only carries a fine.
This is different from marijuana legalization. Under decriminalization, criminal penalties linked to marijuana are removed, but civil penalties, like a fine, remain in place and sales remain illegal. Under legalization, civil and criminal penalties for marijuana possession are removed, and sales are typically allowed.
Some opponents of legalization favor decriminalization as a step toward peeling back America’s harsh drug and criminal justice policies. They see “tough on crime” policies as too punitive and costly, but they don’t want to resort to full legalization, which they fear would make pot too accessible in the US and allow big corporations to sell and market the drug irresponsibly.
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