A new bill proposed in Raleigh would make it legal to legally possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. State senator Paul Lowe, a Democrat from Forsyth County, proposed SB 58, which would decriminalize low level drug possession.
It would also allow for some past offenders to have North Carolina drug violations expunged from their record. Possession of up to three ounces of cannabis, the bill proposes, could be erased by a petition with a $100 filing fee. Lowe’s bill would not alter laws regarding sentencing for hashish possession.
Lowe acknowledged that not all lawmakers would initially be on board, but; “This is heading in the right direction,” he said. The state senator also introduced a similar bill to decriminalize cannabis possession in the last session of the Senate. “There are new legislators with differing outlooks on a lot of legislation being reintroduced,” he said upon announcing SF 58, as reported by the Winston-Salem Journal. “So now let’s see if the legislation gets a different reception.”
SB 58 takes aim at North Carolina’s current penalties towards marijuana. At the present time, those found with a half ounce or less of any controlled substance face a Class 3 misdemeanor plus 20 days of jail time or community service. Possession of an ounce and a half or more can now be punished by up to five months’ jail time.
Moves towards regulation have long been simmering. In November, State representative Kelly Alexander told members of the press, “It’s time now for the legislators in North Carolina to catch up with the people.” Alexander, first elected to the state Congress in 2009, has been a longtime advocate for legalization in North Carolina. He had previously thrown his support behind medical marijuana, before beginning to propose legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug.
A poll conducted by Elon University that indicated that 80 percent of North Carolinians favor the legalization of medicinal marijuana has been widely shared. Decriminalization measures are often seen as an effective legislative step towards eventual regulation of cannabis.
Another survey conducted by a group of state newspapers of 60 community leaders found that many were in favoring of changing cannabis laws. One former governor weighed in saying that the state should have medical marijuana regulation. A banking CEO opined that decriminalizing marijuana could reduce crime.
One factor that could be influencing North Carolinians’ opinions on cannabis is the fact that the state is primed to become one of the United States’ largest producers of hemp. Estimates put the number of acres of hemp seeded in the state in 2017 at 2,500. That same year, Industrial Hemp Manufacturing, LLC and Hemp, Inc. opened a 70,000 square foot hemp processing mill in the town of Spring Hope.
Upon the 2018 passage of the US Farm Bill that legalized licensed hemp production, the Raleigh News & Observer reported that 500 growers had been registered by the Department of Agriculture and North Carolina State University for a two year study on hemp farming in the run up to the change in federal legislation.