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North Carolina lawmaker introduces legalization bill

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The North Carolina legislation faces long odds in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

A Democratic lawmaker in North Carolina on Monday introduced a bill that would legalize the sale and possession of recreational cannabis for adults in the state.

State Sen. Toby Fitch’s proposal focuses primarily on “the sale, possession and use of marijuana,” according to the Winston-Salem Journal, “although a section covers the legal use of industrial hemp.”

As in other states and cities that have lifted the prohibition on pot, Fitch’s bill would apply to individuals who are 21 and older.

Under the proposal, those adults could “possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person,” the newspaper reported, but there would be restrictions and penalties tied to consuming pot in public.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, anyone “who possesses more than two ounces on their person in a public setting could be subject to a civil penalty of up to $25,” but “anyone possessing more than one pound of marijuana—not including a marijuana licensure—could be found guilty of a Class F felony and face a fine of up to $250,000.”

Neither recreational nor medicinal cannabis are legal in the Tar Heel State––one of a dwindling number of states with outright prohibition still intact.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the bill “may represent an attempt to link legalization to a medical marijuana bill…that cleared three Senate committees during the 2021 session before stalling in August in Rules and Operations.”

The medical cannabis bill was introduced last year by a Republican state Senator.

Fitch’s bill would also establish a regulatory body overseeing the new cannabis market called the Cannabis Control Commission.

Under the text of the legislation, the commission would “consist of a Chief Executive Officer, the Board of Directors, and the agents and employees of the Commission. The Commission shall be administratively located within the Department of Public Safety but shall exercise its powers independently of the Secretary of Public Safety.”

The commission would issue rules over the sale and transportation of cannabis, while also enforcing them.

The regulatory body would also be charged with overseeing the social equity provisions of the new law, which are designed to provide opportunities within the new market to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.

Of course, all of this may well be moot, given the composition of the North Carolina General Assembly. Republicans control both legislative chambers, while Democrats have one of their own, Roy Cooper, currently serving as governor.

A spokesperson for the Democratic governor indicated last year that Cooper would be amenable to signing the medical cannabis legislation that was introduced.

“Studies have shown medical marijuana can offer many benefits to some who suffer from chronic conditions, particularly veterans, and the Governor is encouraged that North Carolina might join the 36 other states that have authorized it for use,” the spokesperson told the Outer Banks Voice.

“The Governor will review this bill as it moves through the legislative process.”

There is reason to believe that North Carolina voters are ready for lawmakers to legalize both medicinal and recreational cannabis.

A poll last month found that a whopping majority of North Carolina voters––72%––are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. The support included 64% of state Republicans, 75% of Democrats, and nearly 80% of independents.

A smaller majority of voters in North Carolina, 57%, said that recreational pot use should also be legal, including 63% of Democrats, and 60% of independents.

On the subject of recreational cannabis, state Republicans were divided, with 46% saying it should be made legal and 44% saying it should remain illegal.

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