Lawmakers in North Carolina to Discuss Legalizing Marijuana

State Representative Kelly Alexander wants to explore county-level changes to cannabis law.
Lawmakers in North Carolina to Discuss Legalizing Marijuana

The rumblings of the legalization movement in North Carolina are getting louder. State representative Kelly Alexander told local TV channel WNCT9 that he will be meeting with other elected officials to talk about potential cannabis bills for 2019. Alexander said that he thinks such a move is overdue.

“It’s time now for the legislators in North Carolina to catch up with the people,” he commented. Alexander also mentioned interest in locally-based change, describing a potential county by county system that echoes the state’s current infrastructure when it comes to the availability of alcohol.

“We have dry counties,” explained the Democratic state representative, who comes from a family of NAACP chairs and civil rights activists. “We have wet counties. We have portions of counties that may be wet, and the rest of them are dry. All of those are driven by local option decisions.”

His statements reflect a growing sense that the state’s residents are ready for cannabis to take on an entirely different role in society. Last year, an Elon University poll found that 80 percent of the state’s population favors a plan to legalize medicinal marijuana. 45 percent of respondents said that they support the legalization of recreational cannabis.

Alexander is far from the only prominent North Carolinian to express his support for the growth of cannabis legalization. Legislative proposals have been introduced more or less consistently to the North Carolina General Assembly for the last 10 years, including three failed cannabis bills in 2018 that did not make it to committee hearings. Nonetheless, survey results published in October revealed that many of the state’s leaders in politics, business, and academia are in favor of revamping marijuana laws, from decriminalization to the legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana.

Many of the respondents to that survey of state leaders connected their support for marijuana decriminalization to concerns over a racist legal system. “The criminalization of marijuana possession is the equivalent of a throw down gun that the police can use when it is convenient to remove people they consider undesirable,” said Duke University law professor James Coleman.

North Carolina has also seen the recent rise of industrial hemp production — in fact, the state is a leader in the national hemp industry. An estimated 2,500 acres of the plant were seeded in 2017. Hemp Inc.’s 70,000 square foot facility in Spring Hope is the largest of its kind in the United States.

The sense that change is afoot has invigorated activists. Executive director of North Carolina NORML Abner Brown commented that a letter writing campaign targeting state politicians is already in process and that the organization will be compiling information on which elected officials are in favor of pushing cannabis laws forward. “We’re going to set ourselves up for the best chance possible,” Brown commented, adding that NORML is planning on starting next year with a show of strength, and is prepping for a January rally that will take place on state capital Raleigh’s Jones Street.

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