North Dakota is one of most recent states to have accepted the inevitability of marijuana legalization. Just this week, its House voted to approve HB 1420 which allows recreational use and sales in the state.
However, the bill seems like a pre-emptive strike on marijuana legislation that advocates and North Dakotans would really want. HB 1420 is sponsored by Rep. Jason Dockter, an anti-marijuana lawmaker who reportedly filed the legislation so that activists would no longer have the chance to set the rules via a ballot measure. True to form, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature also recently rejected a separate proposal to place the question of legalizing recreational cannabis as a ballot referendum in 2022.
Rep. Dockter’s bill will allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce and purchase up to 21 grams twice a month but not cultivate for personal use. As if acknowledging that the fight against legalization is over, most marijuana bills set to be heard this year were filed by Republican lawmakers. HB 1201, filed by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R) and Sen. Scott Meyer (R), is a decriminalization bill that aims to make possession of up to an ounce punishable by only a $50 fine. Carrying more than an ounce and less than 250 grams will only be treated as an infraction instead of a class B misdemeanor.
The bills seem to have failed to placate activists though, since groups like LegalizeND will still be pushing to get a legalization measure on the ballot for 2022. The new proposal recently submitted by the group to Secretary of State Al Jaeger calls for both the legalization of possession and home cultivation of up to 12 plants, six of which could be mature. It also has a provision stating that the legislature could enact regulations that would establish a commercial market in the future.
Overview of North Dakota Marijuana Laws
Medical marijuana was legalized in North Dakota in 2016 under Measure 5 or the state’s Compassionate Care Act. Recreational use remains illegal to this day but penalties were reduced in 2019 after Gov. Doug Burgum signed HB 1050 into law.
- Possession – An amount less than half an ounce is considered an infraction and no longer receives jail time and instead, only a fine. Anything exceeding this for personal use is already a misdemeanor.
- ½ oz or less – A fine of up to $1000
- More than ½ oz to 500 g – Up to 30 days jail time and a maximum fine of $1500
- More than 500 g – Up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $3000
- Sale/Distribution – Selling marijuana in North Dakota is considered a felony.
- Any amount – Jail time of 3 to 10 years and a maximum fine of $20,000
- With the aid of a minor – Jail time of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $20,000
- Within 1000 feet of a school – Jail time of up to 20 years and a maximum fine of $20,000
- Cultivation – Illegal cultivation of marijuana in North Dakota receives the same penalties as possession.
History of Marijuana in North Dakota
As a fairly conservative state where marijuana reform had a hard time catching on, North Dakota was actually one of the last states to have banned cannabis in 1933. Barely anything moved forward decades after until finally in 2015, a slight partisan medical marijuana bill was introduced. HB 143 aimed to establish a medical marijuana program in the state but was ultimately voted down. Because of this failure, a Fargo resident began a ballot initiative campaign to put the issue of medical marijuana legalization before voters in the following year.
While Measure 5 did succeed in 2016, both houses of the legislature pared it down the following year, removing the provision which allowed home cultivation. Lawmakers also specified that smoking marijuana can only be allowed upon the recommendation of a medical professional. Understandably, backers of the measure were displeased with what happened but nevertheless, the bill was passed and the state’s Department of Health finally established and implemented a medical marijuana program in 2017.
Perhaps realizing it would be impossible to get the marijuana laws that they want under a Republican legislature, marijuana activists worked once again to send a recreational marijuana referendum before voters in 2018. Unfortunately, the measure failed 59% to 41%. Another effort to gather signatures for an act to legalize possession, sales and home cultivation was launched in 2020, but the campaign fell short of the needed number of signatures due to the disruption caused by the COVID pandemic.
The state’s lawmakers nevertheless, have been level-headed enough to accept that marijuana is coming to their state to stay. In May 2019, HB 1050 was passed by North Dakota’s Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Burgum. The bill reclassified possession of up to half an ounce from a misdemeanor down to an infraction punishable only by a fine of up to $1,000. It also reduced penalties for possession of more than half an ounce and called on the Legislative Assembly to study adult-use legalization.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of North Dakota
How does North Dakota’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in North Dakota
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in North Dakota.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in North Dakota.
Medical marijuana has been legal in North Dakota since 2017.
There are already a number of pro-marijuana bills introduced for this year and marijuana activists have also launched their own campaigns to get the issue of recreational marijuana on the 2022 ballot. It is expected that HB 1420, a Republican-sponsored bill, will get approved. However, it does not contain a provision for home cultivation.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in North Dakota.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in North Dakota.
Growing marijuana in North Dakota is strictly illegal for residents of all ages.
Since medical marijuana is already legal in North Dakota and the state’s lawmakers have more or less accepted that legalization is bound to happen at a federal level under the new administration, a strict Republican-sponsored recreational marijuana bill or a decriminalization bill is likely to make it this year. Rep. Dockter even said recently that it’s not a question of “if” legalization is coming, “it is coming in—it’s already here.” This is why Republican lawmakers like Dockter and Rep. Matthew Ruby are pushing legislation that seeks “to get ahead of the constitutional measure that is already beginning the signature collection.” And the problem with the activist-led initiative. Ruby fears that activist-led initiatives would likely include home cultivation can complicate the enforcement of possession limits.