This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. Today we turn to number 33: North Dakota.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 34. Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. In North Dakota possession of less than one ounce of marijuana can earn up to 30 days in prison, along with a $500 fine. Courts may permanently seal convictions of first offenders caught with less than one ounce, so long as that person is not convicted of another criminal offense within two years. Possession of more than one ounce but less than 500 grams earns up to a 5-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $10,000. Possession of more than 500 grams or possession of any amount within 1,000 feet of a school earns up to a 10-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $20,000.
North Dakota punishes the sale of any amount of marijuana with a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $20,000. A second offense results in a mandatory minimum 3-year sentence and any additional offenses earn a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
Potential Legalization. North Dakota does not have a medical marijuana program and, as you can see from the criminal penalties, does not allow marijuana for recreational use. However, this may change come November 2016 as North Dakota cannabis advocates are in the process of circulating two petitions seeking signatures to get their measures on the upcoming ballot. One measure would legalize medical marijuana and the other would legalize recreational marijuana. A poll conducted in late 2014 found that 47% of North Dakota respondents supported legalization of medical marijuana, with 41% opposed and 9% neutral. That same poll showed 68% of respondents opposed recreational legalization with only 24% in favor.
Hemp. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed into law House Bill 1436 in 2015, which allows for legal industrial hemp farming in North Dakota. The bill also licensed farmers to import hemp seeds and to cultivate hemp. The hemp application process requires a nationwide criminal background check. The applicant must also indicate the type of hemp seed he or she intends to cultivate.
Many farmers have opted to use hemp seeds from Canada in the initial harvest. This is unsurprising considering that North Dakota is on the U.S.- Canada border. Farm and Ranch Guide put together a report on North Dakota’s emerging hemp industry.
Bottomline. Though North Dakota lags far behind on the legalization front, it has emerged as a leader on hemp. Unfortunately, it still has very harsh criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, which may or may not change in the upcoming election. But until it does, North Dakota will remain as a low ranking state for cannabis.