In February of 2017, North Dakota State Representative Rick Becker (R – District 7) took to the House floor to advocate for passage of House Bill 1340. As the primary sponsor of the bill, Becker sought to decriminalize marijuana. This move came as one of three bills in response to the tragic story of North Dakota State College of Science student Andrew Sadek.
As you might recall, Sadek had been arrested in April of 2013 for selling just over 3 grams of marijuana to an informant. He was then threatened with a potential 40-year prison sentence. He instead took an offer to have his charges reduced or dropped in exchange for becoming a “confidential informant” himself— a completely unnecessary move that would end up costing him his life. After making a number of sales, Sadek came up missing in May of 2014. And in June of 2014, his body was discovered in the Red River wearing a backpack full of rocks with a gunshot wound to the head.
Think of it… all for the “crime” of selling just over 3 grams of marijuana.
Despite the solid arguments that Rep. Becker made for his bill, when the votes were tallied, it wasn’t even close. The 2017 effort to decriminalize marijuana went up in smoke by a vote of 35 – 54. The status quo prevailed.
A close look at the vote on HB 1340 reveals that Representative Shannon Roers Jones (R – District 46) voted with the Nays. Yet, not even two years later, Roers Jones is preparing legislation to propose… wait for it… decriminalization of marijuana. According to the Bismarck Tribune, the bill…
“… would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Currently, that is defined as an ounce or less, or less than six plants, though [Roers Jones] said the language could be modified.
“People caught with small amounts of marijuana would be fined, similar to a traffic offense, which, at some point, would disappear from a person’s state criminal history.”
So, why the change of heart? Well, according to Rep. Roers Jones, she didn’t “recognize the value” of decriminalization legislation back then, but “over the course of the session and the interim, I’ve been involved in a lot of things related to criminal justice reform,” she told the Bismarck Tribune.
Could it also be the support in her district for reforming marijuana laws? After all, Fargo is in Cass County— which was one of four counties in the entire state to have a majority in favor of the recently defeated Measure 3.
It’s no secret that we supported the now failed measure to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota. And while I know many people see proposals like Roers Jones as a positive move in the right direction, I must admit that I struggle with it. Not because I don’t want to see marijuana decriminalized, but because I think it’s just plain ridiculous to fine someone having it. Especially when alcohol — a substance that’s been far more damaging to society — is treated so differently.
It’s also being reported that outgoing Burleigh County Sheriff and State Representative Pat Heinert (R – District 32) has been providing input on Rep. Roers Jones’ bill. I find that concerning. It was Heinert who stood in opposition to Rep. Becker’s bill in 2017 and went on a diatribe about putting a burden on counties with decriminalization and the need to keep constituents “safe”. Yet, he now tells the Bismarck Tribune:
“I think we need to take a rational look at everything, and decriminalization is a rational look at this point in time.”
Like Roers Jones, it seems a lot has changed in the last 21 months for Heinert. How much of a change of heart will likely be evident in the details of the bill.
At the end of the day, if we decriminalize, it’s a positive. But I firmly believe we’re only delaying the inevitable. Legalization of recreational marijuana is coming— whether some folks like it or not. Society is increasingly coming to recognize the blatant hypocrisy of treating it significantly different than alcohol— not to mention the waste of taxpayer dollars and lives ruined like young Andrew Sadek.
If Rep. Roers Jones and her colleagues truly want to do the right thing, they’ll save everyone a lot of time, effort, and money by proposing legislation that includes the components they said were missing from Measure 3. Let’s remember, that even without those components, over 40% of North Dakotans favored the measure.
Stop the tinkering. Just get it done already.
You can see a KX News report on two of Roers Jones’ bill proposals for the upcoming 2019 Legislative Session: