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WIRE: What the future holds for legal cannabis in North Carolina


The US has reached a point when cannabis legalization has become more popular than ever. Naturally, the commonality of cannabis reform is growing throughout the country. As this cannabis craze is gaining traction in the State House, the reform seems to be coming to North Carolina. It’s normal to expect that legislator in NC will want to catch up with the people, but are these expectations in accord with reality and to what extent?

The Limits of Control

Different states have different laws pertaining to medical and recreational marijuana. These laws are specific in each state, meaning the legal status doesn’t make using and buying legal everywhere. Basically, it’s all about limits – states that allow for legal recreational possession of cannabis limit how much can be possessed at one time. This is due to the fact that federal law continues to prohibit marijuana consumption and sales, so each state has to craft regulations and laws within a unique framework. This works in the eyes of the law since it sends a clear message, stating exactly how much a person age 21 or above can possess while in public. All this sounds quite simple, but the problem with North Carolina lies in the fact that these limits are still pretty close to prohibition.

Decriminalizing Small Amounts

The current state in NC is that possession of one-half of an ounce or less of a controlled substance is considered a class 3 misdemeanor. This means that it’s punishable by up to 20 days of an active jail sentence (typically suspended) or a community service requirement. This is why one of the biggest steps concerning legal cannabis future in NC comes in the form of Senate Bill 791 (accompanied by House Bill 994) whose goal is to make the possession of up to four ounces of cannabis for personal use legal. Furthermore, the weight of cannabis an individual can possess would also be raised by these bills – from 1.5 ounces to a pound before it qualifies as a class 1 felony (punishable by up to 5 months of an active sentence).

Obviously, these bills are introduced as an effort to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis, which is without a doubt a move in the right direction. Nevertheless, there are still many of those in NC who think that bills should be thoroughly vetted since characterizing four ounces as a user amount would be absurd. The reason for this ʽcautionʼ relies on the explanation that four ounces can be broken into approximately 120 cannabis cigarettes. With this kind of conservative thinking, it’s no wonder that bills would leave the amount of hashish unchanged – less than three-twentieths of an ounce to avoid class 1 felony and less than one-twentieth to avoid class 1 misdemeanor.

Previous Convictions

Another obstacle for these bills is the fact they would allow anyone who has been found guilty of possessing four ounces or less of cannabis to file a petition in Superior Court (which would cost 100 bucks). That way previous convictions could receive an expunction if a judge determines its warranted after a hearing. This is perfectly reasonable when you look at the fact that possession accounted for 85% of all arrests for drug abuse violations in the U.S., more than a third being for possession of cannabis. Since the real problem is drugs that are actually killing people such as meth and heroin, having the police enforce marijuana laws is a huge waste of money and it just doesn’t make sense. But conservative thinking in NC also has an answer to that – people legally walking around with four ounces of cannabis every day would increase the number of targeted victims in the local community where the majority of robberies and murders are already drug-related. Now, that truly doesn’t make sense.

Insufficient Treatment

The situation with medical marijuana isn’t any better – only CBD products that are at least 5% CBD and no more than 0.9% THC are allowed, which is less THC than many patients need. The first introduction of this CBD-focused law was focused solely on intractable seizure disorders and left most patients behind. It was expanded this year to include other conditions which failed to respond to other treatment options (at least three!), but that bill hasn’t advanced out of committee in the House and hasn’t raised the allowed percentage of THC. The hopes of supporters are aimed towards the newly proposed House Bill 401 that would create the Medical Cannabis Act. Patients with debilitating medical conditions (and a registry identification card to prove it), as well as their caregivers and physicians, would be protected from arrest and prosecution. Still, the definition that the act would allow medical use ʽin a regulated systemʼ again leaves much room for doubt.

It’s not that there’s no initiative for legalization in North Carolina, but it seems that people in charge live in some kind of mindset bubble. Still, they’re asking questions in states where cannabis is already legal, trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not, what are the best practices, and what could they expect. So the future of legal cannabis in NC will start as soon as they acquire enough base knowledge that somehow passed by them.

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