Is Marijuana Legal In North Carolina
In November, North Carolina voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. What’s the verdict?
On Nov. 3, 2016, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County residents will go to the polls and vote on an amendment to make North Carolina the first state east of California to allow marijuana for recreational purposes. The ballot measure is called Question 1.
If passed by voters, it would completely eliminate penalties for possession or personal cultivation of up to one ounce of cannabis and create new tax revenue.
In 2015, a poll conducted by Elon University found that 58 percent of North Carolinians favor legalizing pot for medical uses, with 40 percent opposed. As more states weigh legalization, Charlotte was forced to move forward with its plan after voters rejected four different attempts to pass such legislation in 2014 and 2015.
Now, thanks to a successful $5 million campaign organized by local advocates, it looks like they won’t need another push from their constituents.
“We’re really confident about our chances,” says Dan McCready, executive director of NC Values Coalition, which led the initiative’s fundraising efforts. “I’m optimistic we’ll see a good turnout.”
With polling numbers backing them up, it seems likely that when Charlotte residents head to the polls next week, they will approve Question 1. But there are still plenty of issues to be resolved before the new law takes effect, including what the new rules will look like and how they should be implemented.
Initiative supporters say that adults 21 years old and older who possess less than 30 grams (about an eighth of an ounce) of usable cannabis could freely do so without fear of arrest once approved. They also expect the legislature to develop the specifics around where and when people can legally smoke marijuana. For example, some cities have already decided to prohibit smoking within city limits, but others haven’t yet made those decisions.
Marijuana Legalization Has Been A Long Time Coming
It may seem strange that North Carolina hasn’t already decriminalized marijuana, considering dozens of other states have done just that. But the path toward legalization has not always been smooth. Like any issue involving drug reform, it took decades for marijuana legalization to gain traction throughout the country.
According to McCready, NORML — a national organization dedicated to reforming federal laws surrounding marijuana — began lobbying Congress more than two decades ago to end marijuana prohibition. That effort finally paid off in 2012 when Rep.
Earl Pomeroy introduced the States’ Rights to Medical Cannabis Act, which allowed doctors to prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes. Since then, several more states have legalized medical marijuana through voter initiatives, while Washington and Colorado passed laws allowing recreational marijuana sales.
But even though the passage of Measure 50 in Oregon last fall marked the first statewide approval of recreational marijuana since 2000, it didn’t immediately lead to increased public consumption of the drug, according to data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
According to that survey, 4.6 percent of Americans 12 and up used marijuana in the month of 2014, compared to 5.3 percent in 2015. However, it does show a slight increase among young people between ages 18 and 24, which might explain why lawmakers have hesitated to take further action.
What’s At Stake During This Election Cycle
North Carolina is poised to join the ranks of states that have either decriminalized or fully legalized marijuana. If the state approves Question 1, it will become the third state in the East — following Massachusetts and Maine — to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. This means that in addition to having a higher likelihood of passing, the question itself is more important than usual.
If passed, the referendum will bring in an estimated $60 million per year in taxes, which proponents believe will help pay down the state budget deficit. Meanwhile, opponents argue that marijuana legalization will encourage more harmful behavior, citing studies showing a link between cannabis use and psychosis, anxiety disorders, car accidents, and poor academic performance.
“This measure presents risks greater than benefits,” Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger told reporters. “While I respect the rights of adults to make choices regarding their health care… I think we have enough problems in the General Assembly without adding to them.”
The Pro And Con Arguments
Despite these concerns, many people still support full legalization, arguing that criminalizing marijuana users doesn’t prevent substance abuse and unfairly targets minorities. Proponents of Amendment One point out that nearly 70 percent of North Carolinians support legalization and that the current system of arresting and prosecuting nonviolent offenders isn’t working.
Opponents counter that the existing law allows anyone with less than 10 ounces of weed to avoid jail time. While the punishment for simple possession remains civil rather than criminal, most cases aren’t filed until someone tries selling or distributing marijuana to minors, resulting in hefty fines and community service hours.
They also claim that marijuana legalization will result in more crime because criminals will seek easier prey once they know it’s legal in the area. A study published by researchers at Columbia University recently concluded that legalization in Colorado resulted in fewer deaths from violence, mainly due to lower alcohol consumption rates.
However, critics note that, unlike alcohol, marijuana is highly addictive and that addiction treatment centers are woefully underfunded. Some opponents also worry that legalization will lead to more tourism dollars going to neighboring states with more lenient laws.
Why It Matters So Much
These questions matter so much this year because Democrats control both chambers of the NC. With Republicans holding just 20 seats in each chamber, the amendment’s passage is far from assured.
Tuesday’s elections will also determine which party controls the governorship and legislature, potentially shifting power away from Republicans, who’ve traditionally supported harsh punishments for marijuana offenses.
So far, no gubernatorial candidate has publicly expressed opposition to the proposal. State Sen. Rick Glazier, elected in 2013 and currently chairs the Senate Veterans Committee, said he supports Question 1. He expressed concern that the law wouldn’t include provisions to ensure proper industry regulation and enforcement against illegal sales to children.
Republicans have also held onto the House seat formerly occupied by former Speaker Thom Tillis, who famously referred to himself as the “toughest sheriff north of Savannah” about his stance on immigration. His opponent, Democrat Cal Cunningham, favors marijuana legalization too.
Even if Question 1 fails, North Carolina legislators could still consider similar measures in 2017. It’s unlikely that the results of this particular election will sway voters to change their minds about marijuana legalization.
Still, regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly accepted in this country. This summer, Gallup released research indicating that 54 percent of Americans support legalization, with only 33 percent opposing it.
And despite all the controversy, there’s little doubt that marijuana legalization is here to stay. An April report from the Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of Americans now support legalization, compared to 37 percent who oppose it.