North Carolina takes important steps towards legalization
To date, North Carolina lawmakers have not made much progress in regards to legalizing marijuana. While possession of a very small quantity was decriminalized in 2014, cannabis for medical and recreational use remains outlawed in the state. Recently, however, a state panel has recommended that legislators legalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana strain, make it a civil offense, and expunge all past nonviolent convictions. Currently, a half ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense that carries a fine up to $200. Possessing over a half ounce can lead to a 45 day prison sentence on top of a $200 fine.
Attorney General Josh Stein and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, who both co-chair the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, support studying legalization as a means to restore equity in the criminal justice system. Only 30% of the population in North Carolina is non-white, yet these communities account for 63% of simple possession charges that occurred in the previous year. Research suggests, however, that marijuana use is nearly equal among black and white citizens.
While white and non-white residents do use marijuana at similar rates, minority populations are mostly arrested and convicted. Only 37% of arrests made in 2019 were white North Carolinians, though the population of the state is 70% white.
Putting the fact that minority populations are disproportionately targeted for marijuana-related crimes aside, North Carolina remains one of only 15 states to not have some sort of medical marijuana program in place. While some states have not even begun decriminalizing the plant, North Carolina continues to have some of the most outdated marijuana laws on the books.
This can all change. With the support from the Attorney General and a State Supreme Court Justice, North Carolina is on track to progressing towards more marijuana-friendly legislation. The racial equity task force will release their full recommendations by December 15 to Governor Roy Cooper.