A bill introduced this week in the North Carolina state legislature would seek to not only legalize cannabis possession, but also regulate a recreational cannabis industry.
House Bill 617, which was filed in the legislature on Tuesday, would establish “registration and licensure requirements and procedures governing the operation of cannabis establishments,” would make “possession and use of cannabis for personal use by persons at least 21 years of age lawful within the statutory possession limit,” and would charge the “the Department of Public Safety (Department) with cannabis establishment registration issuance and annual renewal.”
The bill would also create the Office of Social Equity, which The Hill notes would promote “full participation in the regulated cannabis industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition.”
One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Democratic state House Rep. Pricey Harrison, told local television station WBTV that the legislation is about acting on empathy.
“We all know someone or have a constituent that has contacted House Member’s offices for help with a relative or friend being jailed for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Harrison said. “We took great care in writing this bill to include items to encourage bipartisan support. This bill will ensure appropriate guidelines and restrictions.”
Cannabis in North Carolina…and In The South
There are plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the prospect of legalizing cannabis in North Carolina. For starters, it has strong support among the state’s voters. A poll in February found that a majority of North Carolina adults—54 percent—supported legalizing recreational pot use.
Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll, which conducted the survey, said that the results pointed to a significant shift in the state’s views on the matter.
“Opposition to recreational marijuana legalization fell substantially over the last three years,” Husser said. “I suspect this is due in large part to the wave of states that have passed legalization measures. Medical marijuana legalization remains broadly supported in every demographic group we examined.”
Senior state officials have also signaled a willingness to relax the laws surrounding cannabis in North Carolina. Attorney general Josh Stein said late last year that he supported the decriminalization of pot in the state.
“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” said Stein, a Democrat. “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced. Additionally, it is time for North Carolina to start having real conversations about a safe, measured, public health approach to potentially legalizing marijuana.”
Perhaps most crucially of all, a task force that was appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper recommended that North Carolina legalize cannabis, saying that it would both represent a boon for the local economy and a remedy to inequities in the criminal justice system.
North Carolina may also be emboldened by the recent actions taken by its neighbor to the north. This year, Virginia became the first southern state to legalize recreational marijuana, a historic move made official on Wednesday when its own Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, signed the bill that was passed by state lawmakers earlier this month.
“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Northam said on Wednesday. “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout this country have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color and low-income Virginians.”
Northam said last month that he would like an earlier start date for legal marijuana in Virginia.
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