OXFORD — Granville County’s N.C. Senate delegate has joined two of his colleagues in introducing a bill that would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana in North Carolina.
Filed Tuesday, the bill declares at the outset that “cannabis prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has been a wasteful and destructive failure,” evidenced by “about half of Americans admit[ting] to having used” it.
State Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, is a lead sponsor of the bill alongside fellow Democrats Val Foushee of Orange County and Jay Chaudhuri of Wake County.
Woodard’s district includes Granville, Durham and Person counties. Granville and Person border Virginia, whose government has agreed to legalize marijuana and is now debating whether to begin phasing that in this year instead of waiting until 2024.
Given that, “what at least I hope we will do is begin a conversation about how we handle cannabis in this state,” Woodard said on Wednesday. “I’ve talked to constituents who’ve tried to understand when Virginia’s legalization takes effect, what does that mean for them — are they going to be able to just drive across the line and buy marijuana for recreational use, are they going to be able to bring it home.”
“I’m not under any delusion this is going to pass right away,” he added. “The important thing is we need to begin having the conversation, particularly with our neighbor to the north getting in line with their program.”
Clocking in at 24 pages, the bill’s key provisions in theory would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. That includes language that would allow the possession, consumption, cultivation, processing, transport and purchase of marijuana by anyone age 21 and above.
It would allow people to grow their own cannabis, provided they do so out of sight of others from the ground and take “reasonable precautions” to keep their plants out of the hands of people under age 21.
Smoking marijuana in a public place would be illegal, as would its use while operating a motor vehicle, boat or airplane. As with alcohol, using a fake ID to get around the age restriction would be a crime.
The bill envisions commercial farming and processing of cannabis, but says those would require separate state licenses. It would also allow retail “cannabis establishments” that could sell marijuana and related products.
Another provision would essentially waive North Carolina’s existing drug-paraphernalia law for “cannabis accessories” used in growing, processing, packaging and consuming marijuna.
The N.C. Department of Public Safety would get the job of regulating the new industry, including handling the registration of its retail establishments.
But the bill would allow city or county governments to “prohibit the operating of any or all types of cannabis establishments” in their jurisdiction, a degree of local control the state has long allowed in the alcohol trade.
With cannabis, local governments could act via ordinance. There is no requirement for a referendum of voters.
Woodard, a former Durham city councilman, said he is a “local government guy” who is “supportive of local governments having a say in a lot of things like this for their community because Vance County may have a different view of this than Durham County does, and they may have a different view than Person County does or Randolph County does or Buncombe County.”
He conceded that could lead to a patchwork legalization across the state, but said “we’ve lived with a patchwork of other local laws,” including those permitting or forbidding alcohol sales in various communities.
Another section includes a variety of anti-discrimination provisions to keep cannabis users from being penalized as such by the government in decisions about occupational licensing, government benefits and other matters.
The bill would forbid state and local law enforcement officers from using any resources, “including the officer’s time,” on cannabis arrests, seizures and investigations “on the sole basis of activity the officer believes to constitute a violation of federal law.”
Marijuana remains a controlled substance on the federal level, but the presidential administrations of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden have more or less looked the other way as states have relaxed their own prohibitions on the plant.
The bill gives the Department of Public Safety authority to make rules for the new industry, and says cannabis sales will be subject to a 20% tax on the state level and a 3% local-option tax by cities and towns.
It earmarks up to half the revenue from the state’s tax to fund substance-abuse programs, medical research, impaired driving enforcement and some new programs to offset the impact of marijuana enforcement on “communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed” by it.
Finally, the bill includes a section legalizing the use of “medical cannabis” in health care, and another providing for the “automatic expunction” of prior criminal charges involving marijuana or hashish that would no longer be crimes in this state.
Woodard said he expects the state’s law enforcement and agricultural sectors will have a lot to say as debate about the issue unfolds. “And I welcome that conversation,” he added.
Marijuana legalization has already been an issue in local politics, as last year the Democratic Party nominee for an N.C. House seat from Granville County, Cindy Deporter, announced during the campaign that she favored legalization. The Republican incumbent and eventual winner of that race, Rep. Larry Yarborough, countered that he didn’t “have a strong position on marijuana,” but wanted to see how things played out in other states that have legalized it.
Contact Ray Gronberg at email@example.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.