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North Carolina Democrats File Bill to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana

You’d have to have 16 ounces of cannabis to get a felony under this proposal.

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It’s hard to ignore the rumblings for legal marijuana in North Carolina. This week, some policymakers are focusing first on decriminalization measures. On Monday, four state representatives filed as primary sponsors for HB 766, which would erase penalties for possessing four ounces or less of cannabis, making it “no longer unlawful.”

The bill would make the cut offs for drug offenses that qualify as misdemeanors and felonies higher. Under current law, possession of more than a half ounce makes your crime a misdemeanor. A felony awaits those convicted of more than one and a half ounces. Under the new bill, you would have to be convicted of possession of more than four ounces to get a misdemeanor, and more than a whopping 16 ounces for it to qualify as a felony.

HB 766 would also compel the Department of Justice to review court records and expunge all possession charges of less four ounces of marijuana, allowing individuals to file their own petition with the court system before the DOJ’s deadline of July 1, 2020. It’s not the most agile system that has been proposed for such a process of retroactive justice — for each expungement, a hearing would be required to make the petition a success.

The bill has been passed to the Senate’s committee on rules and operations, where it will await its legislative fate. Its sponsors include 12 Democrats, including State Representatives John Autry, Allison Dahle, Pricey Harrison and Zack Hawkins, who are its primary sponsors.

Cannabis legalization has been a legislative issue in North Carolina for at least a decade, but this year has seen concentrated effort on behalf of lawmakers to get something passed that would widen legal access to cannabis. In November, state representative Kelly Alexander announced that he would be beating the bushes for cannabis legislation plans in 2019. In October, a consortium of the News & Observer, the Herald-Sun, and the Charlotte Observer newspapers published a survey of 60 North Carolinian leaders. Most all of them said they wanted to make at least some form of marijuana legal.

HB 766 does not even qualify as the most dramatic proposal for cannabis possession that has been filed in this year’s legislative session. In February, state senator Paul Lowe filed SB 45, a measure that would legalize possession of up to three ounces of weed. That bill was also sent to the committee on rules and operations, but has yet to see any further movement.

Certainly, some officials are hedging their bets that legal cannabis will be present in North Carolina’s future. Asheville Alcohol Beverage Control Board general manager Mark Combs told CBS17 in February, ““The states that are legalizing it, we’re talking. We’re asking questions. We’re curious as to what they’re doing. What’s working? What’s not working? What are best practices? So that we have a working knowledge of what we could expect, whether it’s an ABC system, or whether it’s franchised, or whether it’s state-operated. It’s good to have that base knowledge so that we can go from there, and not be surprised.”

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