The southern states have a tendency to be more conservative when it comes to cannabis legalization, with few having medical marijuana laws on the books and none on the growing list of states to legalize adult use. However, North Carolina may have the opportunity to break that trend – even if it is unlikely that the bills will move through legislature fast enough to become law this session.
Recently, two bills have been introduced that aim to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana – up to 4 ounces. Currently, North Carolina state law makes one-half ounce or less a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 20 days of jail time and/or community service.
Senate Bill 791 (sponsored by Senator Paul Lowe) and it’s twin, House Bill 994 (sponsored by Representative Kelly Alexander Jr.) would both decriminalize possession of 4 ounces or less and would raise the amount considered a felony from one and a half ounces to one pound. Lowe considers the bill to be an effort in the right direction, attempting to decriminalize possession of personal amounts of marijuana – but going further than most decriminalization efforts as it bypasses civil citations and fines, and makes personal possession out-right legal.
Of course, as with any attempt to legalize marijuana at any level, there are those who find faults in the bill, like District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who believes four ounces is far too much to be considered a personal stash.
“Conservatively speaking, four ounces of marijuana has a street value of $1,000 and can be broken down into about 120 marijuana cigarettes,” O’Neill said.
On top of legalizing four ounces or less, and raising the threshold for possession considered a felony, the bills both also consider those with previous cannabis possession related convictions. It would allow individuals found guilty of possession of four ounces or less the chance to file a petition with the Superior Court, with a fee of $100 to file. A hearing would then be set with a judge who would determine whether the conviction should be expunged.
Each of the bills were introduced last Thursday – with SB791 sent to the Senate Rules Committee, and HB994 sent to the House Judiciary Committee. If approved, they will go on to be reviewed by other committees before they would reach the floor for a vote and then be sent to the other chamber to start over in the review process. This late in the legislative session, the chances of seeing either bill pass is unlikely – but if either were to make it to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk and was signed this year, it would go into effect July 1st.