Senate leader indicates willingness to consider medical cannabis; Republican senator introduces effective medical cannabis bill
Last update: April 26, 2021
Voters in some of the most conservative states in the nation — Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah — have approved compassionate medical cannabis laws. There are now 36 states that have effective medical cannabis laws, including several in the South. Meanwhile, North Carolina is increasingly lonely in its continued prohibition on medical cannabis — a treatment option that is far safer than opiates.
If you are a patient in North Carolina who could benefit from medical cannabis, the loved one of a patient, or if you are a medical professional, a member of the clergy, or a law enforcement officer who supports medical cannabis legislation, we’d love to hear from you. Please email us at email@example.com.Consider including your address and/or nine-digit zip code so we can determine who your state representative and senator are.
Previous efforts to advance medical cannabis legislation have not resulted in meaningful reforms. In 2014, North Carolina took a small step forward, enacting a CBD-focused law for patients with intractable seizure disorders — however, it failed to provide an in-state source for cannabis extracts. For more information, please see our summary of the law.
N.C. racial equity task force recommends moving towards legalization; bill introduced to end cannabis prohibition
On April 6, Sen. Jay Chaudhuri introduced SB 646, a bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older. The bill would also create a medical cannabis program and provide for automatic expungement of past cannabis offenses.
On December 14, 2020, the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice published a report, which recognized that cannabis policy reform is essential to racial justice. The report recommended reducing the penalty for possessing up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis to a civil fine and expunging past convictions. It also called for a study of legalization.
The task force included Attorney General Josh Stein, who explained, “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.”
Under North Carolina law, possession of up to a half ounce of cannabis is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $200. Possession of greater amounts up to 1.5 ounces can result in up to 45 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Criminal convictions can derail lives, making it difficult to get employment, housing, professional licenses, and an education. The racially disparate enforcement of cannabis laws means that Black North Carolinians are disproportionately likely to have to face these harsh consequences for using a substance that is safer than alcohol.
North Carolina is one of 31 states that have enacted laws to stop jailing those who possess small amounts of cannabis — at least for a first offense. Back in 1977, the legislature approved a significant reduction in penalties, which has been so non-controversial many people don’t even know about it. However, the law is among the worst decriminalization laws in the nation — a suspended sentence is possible for a first offense, and the offense carries the lasting stigma of a misdemeanor charge instead of a civil violation.
In addition, like most states that prohibit cannabis, people of color are disproportionately arrested or cited for cannabis offenses.