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North Dakota seeking to pardon more low-level pot offenders

BISMARCK (AP) — The North Dakota Pardon Advisory Board is seeking more applicants under its new policy wiping criminal records clean for people with low-level marijuana convictions.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum pardoned 16 qualified offenders in January under the marijuana policy adopted last year. People can petition to have their records expunged if they avoid unlawful behavior for five years. The pardons erase the convictions altogether and records are shielded from public view.
Craig Bjorland, 37, said he was thrilled to receive his pardon by mail months after applying for it, the Bismarck Tribune reported Monday.
“I thought I didn’t get it because I didn’t meet some requirement or something, so when the certificate came in the mail, it was pretty cool. I called my mom,” said Bjorland, a construction contractor who lives in Christine, a small town south of Fargo.
He encouraged others with similar convictions to apply, which North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he believes is valuable to increasing applicants.
“Good for him,” he said. “Anything that will help spread the word will be useful.”
In the first two rounds of applications, 26 people applied. Stenehjem listed a few reasons for why the number is so low: Word has not traveled far enough, some offenses took place so long ago that people might not care to apply, and some people may have not encountered barriers to housing or employment because of their convictions.
Stenehjem estimated that as many as 175,000 cases, dating back decades, could be eligible under the policy, which does not cover convictions for intent to deliver marijuana, or for manufacturing or delivering the drug.
The Pardon Advisory Board will reconvene April 14 to consider the second round of applications. The next application deadline is Aug. 12. The board will consider those at its Nov. 10 meeting.
Marijuana legalization could be on North Dakota’s ballot this year. Two groups have recommended measures to decriminalize the drug. The Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee is examining the potential impacts.