North Carolina Lawmakers File Recreational Marijuana Legalization Bills

Lawmakers in North Carolina are looking to make their state the next to end the prohibition of recreational marijuana, with two bills pending in the state legislature that would legalize cannabis for adults.

The first measure, House Bill 626, was filed on Monday by four Democratic members of the House of Representatives, with co-sponsorship from eight of their colleagues. If passed by the state legislature and signed into law, the bill would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older.

“People have been smoking cannabis from time immemorial and up until the 1930s, it was essentially legal,” state Rep. Kelly Alexander, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement quoted by WCNC television news. “What we’re trying to do now is to restore that legality.”

Possession of all but small amounts of cannabis in North Carolina is still a crime, although possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in 1977 and now results in a fine of up to $200. Even medical marijuana is still prohibited, with only CBD oil low in THC legal for use by patients with intractable epilepsy.

“This is not the 18th century,” Alexander continued. “We don’t need to put a scarlet letter on people for the use of a naturally occurring product that more and more people see as having a medical benefit, and a personal benefit.”

Majority Of North Carolina Voters Support Legalizing Pot

If the bill succeeds, North Carolina will join 21 other states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Public opinion in the state is in favor of the move, with a SurveyUSA poll conducted last year showing that 57% of voters support legalizing cannabis for adults, while less than a third (32%) said that recreational marijuana should remain illegal.

“It’s time for us to allow citizens who want to indulge in the use of cannabis to be able to do so without stigma and without fear of being arrested,” Alexander said.

The goals of House Bill 626 are supported by national cannabis policy reform activists. Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that continuing the prohibition of cannabis does not promote public safety.

“It makes no sense to use limited prosecutorial resources to target, prosecute and incarcerate individuals for their possession and use of a substance that’s objectively safer than either alcohol or tobacco,” Armentano said.

House Bill 626 would also establish a framework for the production and sale of recreational for adults. Passage of the bill could be an economic boon for the state. Armentano noted that nationwide, the regulated cannabis industry supports 450,000 jobs.

“In fact, we have twice as many people now currently working full time in the state-licensed cannabis industry than we have dentists in America,” he said.

House Bill 626 also includes social equity provisions designed to support communities that have been negatively impacted by nearly a century of prohibition. The measure has been referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 346 Filed Last Month

An adult-use cannabis bill is also pending in the upper chamber of the North Carolina state legislature after being filed by four Democratic senators on March 21. The legislation, Senate Bill 346, would legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana or 15 grams of cannabis concentrates by adults, who would also be permitted to cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home.

The measure also sets a regulatory framework for recreational marijuana production and sales and creates a new Office of Social Equity that would “promote and encourage full participation in the regulated cannabis industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and enforcement, in order to positively impact those communities.”

Supporters of reform note that in addition to the economic benefits of cannabis legalization enjoyed by businesses and their employees, ending the prohibition of marijuana can be a source of new tax revenue for state and local governments. Senate Bill 346 sets a 20% tax on marijuana products and allows local governments to add an additional tax of 3%.

“States have now generated an estimated $12 billion in new tax revenue due to taking these markets from being underground markets and taking them above ground and making them transparent, legal regulated marketplaces,” Armentano said.

Senate Bill 346 has been assigned to the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate.

A separate bill, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 3), is also pending in the state Senate. The measure was passed by the Senate on March 1 by a vote of 36-10 and is now pending in the House of Representatives.

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