North Carolina Task Force Recommends Cannabis Decriminalization, Study of Legalization

North Carolina could soon follow the path taken by Virginia, its northern neighbor: decriminalize cannabis and step toward full legalization. 

On Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced that the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which he co-chairs with North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, adopted recommendations to do just that. 

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” Stein said in the announcement. “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.”

Earlier this week, as Cannabis Wire reported, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called for cannabis legalization in 2021, following his signing of cannabis decriminalization legislation in May. Virginia’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup began to meet in July, and finalized its recommendations in October. 

Should North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper follow the recommendations of the task force, which he convened, his state could travel down a similar path. The task force, which counts among its two dozen members lawmakers, law enforcement, and organizations like the NAACP, will send its full recommendations to Governor Cooper on December 15.

Broadly, the recommendations will include: 

• Making the possession of up to 1.5 ounces a civil offense, and automatically expunging past convictions.

• Forming a task force to study the “pros and cons” of the full legalization of cannabis possession and sales, “including government or not for profit monopoly options.” (Such state-run models have been proposed in the U.S., but never adopted; in Canada, some provinces opted for partial or full control of the industry.) This task force, the recommendation continues, “should be guided by a public safety, public health, and racial equity framework.”

• Expanding “drug enforcement data collection” specificity around, for example, “drug, quantity, race, gender, and reason for search.”

In 2019, Justice Earls noted in the announcement, there were more than 10,000 convictions for simple possession in the state, and of those, 63% were people of color, which make up only 30% of the population.

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