N.C. racial equity task force recommends moving towards legalization
Last update: November 20, 2020
The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has recognized that cannabis policy reform is essential to racial justice. In its report, which is anticipated on December 1, 2020, it will be recommending 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 includes 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's marijuana laws lag behind other states
Voters in some of the most conservative state 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.
Unfortunately, voters can’t place measures on the ballot in North Carolina. But with more and more states enacting medical cannabis laws, and 80% of North Carolina voters in support, pressure should be building on the state legislature.
On March 20, 2019, 19 cosponsors introduced H 401, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. The bill carried over to 2020, but it was not even given a committee hearing or vote before the legislature adjourned.
Let your state lawmakers know you want them to listen to the 80% of voters who support allowing patients and doctors to decide whether to use medical cannabis.
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.
In 2019, the Senate approved a bill — S 168 — which would have expanded the CBD-focused law to include autism, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, mitochondrial disease, and other conditions that failed to respond to at least three other treatment options. It still would not have provided in-state access. In 2020, the bill was completely revised to no longer apply to CBD and to instead make changes related to exceptions to confidentiality for psychiatrists concerning reporting on crimes against juveniles. (Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill over an unintended consequence.)
Decriminalization and prohibition
North Carolina is one of 31 states that have enacted laws to stop jailing those who possess small amounts of marijuana — 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 marijuana, people of color are disproportionately arrested or cited for marijuana offenses.