Can North Carolina Think Outside the Box?

In a recent post at BlueNC, James Protzman suggests that “Legalization doesn’t require embracing the hyper-commercialization model Colorado has adopted.  A less invasive approach for North Carolina would likely make more sense, where the right of individuals to medicate themselves isn’t overwhelmed by corporate greed. That’s a “how” question, which must be addressed once we agree to move forward.”

Should our lawmakers agree to move forward, we would like to suggest several ways to address the “how”:

  • The simplest option would be to remove marijuana* from North Carolina’s list of controlled substances by eliminating GS § 90-94(1)(2). Under NC law, marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinols, and synthetic cannabinoids are all Class VI controlled substances (synthetic cannabinoids would remain on the list). We could then remove all penalties for possession and manufacture (growing, in other words). The arrests of medical users and other adults who use cannabis would end, and the state would not have to institute a medical marijuana program OR a full scale legalization program. The down-side to this solution is that no revenue is generated, but this will be offset by the savings to be had from ending arrests, court costs and prison costs.

 

  • Legalize possession and home grow for adult users (over 21) – this is the Vermont solution. Patients, caregivers and adult users could form cooperatives. Legislators could require a licensing fee to generate revenue, but again cost saving would be the main draw here.This eliminates cartels and illegal dealers, the proliferation of dispensaries/retail shops, commercial advertising, and “Big Marijuana”.

 

  • Pass a bill that decriminalizes possession of an amount that might reasonably be possessed by a qualified patient and decriminalize possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Under our current law,

Possession of 0.5 ounces or less of marijuana is a Class 3 misdemeanor and a maximum fine of $200. Any sentence of imprisonment imposed for this offense must be suspended. Possession of more than 0.5 to 1.5 ounces is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by 1 to 45 days imprisonment and a discretionary fine for a first offense, and maximum fine of $1000. Possession of over 1 and a half ounces but less than or equal to 10 pounds is a Class I felony punishable by 3 to 8 months imprisonment and a discretionary fine for a first offense.

An adequate supply according to the three bills introduced in the General Assembly in 2017 (HB 185 – Legalize Medical Marijuana, SB 648 – Legalize Medical Marijuana , and SB 579 – The Catherine A. Zanga Medical Marijuana Bill) would be no more than 24 ounces of smokable/vaporizable cannabis.

With regards to marijuana paraphernalia,

Use, possession, sale, delivery, or manufacture of paraphernalia is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by 1 to 45 days imprisonment and a discretionary fine for a first offense. Delivery of paraphernalia by a person aged 18 years or older to a person under the age of 18 who is at least 3 years younger is a Class I felony punishable by 3 to 8 months imprisonment and a discretionary fine for a first offense.

Criminalizing possession of paraphernalia is particularly absurd, since smoke shops across the state legally sell all manner of papers, pipes, bongs, bubblers, scales, vaporizers, lighters, etc. under the guise that they are for “tobacco use” only, yet once the purchaser leaves the shop with these items, they are subject to arrest, possible jail time, and a criminal record.

These ideas may provide a springboard for North Carolina’s legislators to begin a very serious and timely discussion of Reform of Marijuana Laws.

*Many activists prefer the term cannabis, however North Carolina’s laws refer to marijuana, so we use the term marijuana when we are discussing specific state laws.

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