Marijuana reform is gaining momentum in the American Midwest as Nebraska and North Dakota have recently taken steps toward changing their outdated cannabis policies.
Earlier this week, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R) quietly made a small but important change to the Roughrider State's marijuana policies. On Wednesday, he signed a bill that will see small amounts of cannabis decriminalized in the state come August 1.
Under the new bill, first-time offenders caught with half an ounce or less of cannabis will no longer face jail time. Instead they will incur a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of larger amounts of marijuana have also been lowered from felony charges to misdemeanors.
Advocates for cannabis reform said that while the new policy has its flaws, it is a welcome change of pace for the state, which voted against legalizing recreational cannabis last November.
"This legislation is far from ideal, but it is a substantial step in the right direction," said Matthew Schweich - Deputy Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is very encouraging to see a conservative state like North Dakota acknowledge and rectify the injustice of jailing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana."
North Dakota wasn't the only Midwest State to make a marijuana move this week. Lawmakers in Nebraska will soon be voting on a medical marijuana legalization sponsored by State Senator Anna Wishart (D). The legislation is expected to hit the Senate floor next week.
If passed, Wishart's bill would allow patients suffering from a predetermined list of conditions to possess and use medical marijuana obtained from a licensed dispensary if recommended by a physician. Patients will not be allowed to grow their own cannabis, and smokable forms of the medication will continue to be prohibited.
"It's a moderate approach, but it still provides access to people who are most in need," Wishart said of her bill.
Still, support for cannabis reform remains shaky in Nebraska, and Wishart is not entirely confident her new bill will pass and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) remains one of the most staunchly anti-marijuana governors in the country.