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Law North Carolina


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NC bills would legalize possessing up to 4 ounces of marijuana for personal use

A Forsyth County legislator is sponsoring a Senate bill that would make it legal to possess up to four ounces of marijuana for personal use.

Senate Bill 791, and companion House Bill 994, would allow people to possess up to four ounces before before they could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth), the bill’s primary sponsor, said he introduced the bill in an effort “to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. This is heading in the right direction.”

Currently, possession of one-half of an ounce or less of a controlled substance is a Class 3 misdemeanor. That is punishable by up to 20 days of an active jail sentence — which typically is suspended — or a requirement of community service.

By contrast, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 120 days of an active sentence.

The bills would exempt up to four ounces of marijuana from being considered a controlled substance.

The bills also would raise the weight of marijuana an individual can possess from 1.5 ounces to a pound before it qualifies as a Class 1 felony, which is punishable by up to five months’ active sentence period.

Jim O’Neill, district attorney for Forsyth County, said the bills should be “thoroughly vetted, and must include and consider the scientific community’s evidence of the damage caused to the developing adolescent brain caused by marijuana smoking.”

O’Neill said he considers Lowe “a friend and someone I truly respect, but to characterize four ounces of marijuana as a user amount would be absurd.”

“Conservatively speaking, four ounces of marijuana has a street value of $1,000 and can be broken down into about 120 marijuana cigarettes.”

The bills would leave the amount of hashish unchanged at no more than one-twentieth of an ounce to avoid a Class 1 misdemeanor, and no more than three-twentieths of an ounce to avoid a Class 1 felony.

Joining Lowe in sponsoring SB791 is Sens. Milton “Toby” Fitch Jr., D-Nash, and Valerie Foushee, D-Orange. Fitch, who was appointed to the Senate on March 23, is a retired Superior Court judge. The bill, introduced Thursday, was sent to the Senate rules committee.

HB994 is sponsored by Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr., D-Mecklenburg. The bill, also introduced Thursday, was sent to the House Judiciary committee. If approved by that committee, it would go to the Finance committee.

The laws would go into effect July 1 if approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

However, it’s unlikely either bill advances out of committee, in part given GOP legislative leaders’ focus on passing a non-amended state budget for 2018-19 and on school safety legislation. Those leaders also have said their goal is to end the current session by the Fourth of July weekend.

With respect to previous convictions, the bills allow individuals found guilty of possessing four ounces or less of marijuana to file a petition in Superior Court in the county in which they were convicted. There would be a $100 cost to file the petition.

A judge could conduct a hearing on the petition and determine whether an expunction of the conviction is warranted. If an expunction is granted, all law enforcement agencies would be required to expunge their records of the conviction as well.

O’Neill said that with the majority of murders and robberies in the local community “already drug related, why in heavens would we want to increase the number of targeted victims legally walking (with four ounces of marijuana) around every day.”

According to Leafbuyer, a pro-marijuana website, there are eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — that allow for legal recreational possession of marijuana. Those states limit how much can be possessed at one time.

“Federal law continues to prohibit marijuana sales and consumption, causing each state to craft laws and regulations governing their pot industry along with a unique framework,” according to Leafbuyer.

The website said that “limits on how much weed you have on your person, as opposed to the volume you can possess at home, comes down to the word intent.”

“In the eyes of the law, setting a limit on how much a person age 21 or older can possess while in public sends a clear message.

“Carry anything above this, and we’ll consider you more likely to be distributing the substance illegally. Or at least you’re a person with some suspicious behavior patterns.”

The two marijuana weight-limitation bills represent a different legislative effort than bills submitted in April 2017 that would legalize marijuana in North Carolina for medical purposes — Senate bills 579 and 649 and House Bill 185.

None of those medical marijuana bills advanced out of committee.

North Carolina is one of 20 states that does not have a form of a medical marijuana law or legalized marijuana use.


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Efforts underway to legalize marijuana in NC
RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - Abner Brown said it was marijuana that helped him relieve his opioid addiction while living in western North Carolina.

"It was a plant that helped saved my life," Brown said.

It's something he wishes could've helped his friends.

"About three years ago, my first friend died from an opiate overdose, and I've had six die in the last three years since then," he said. "That first one spurred me to get involved."

Now the head of North Carolina NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), he and others are touring the Tar Heel State, talking with residents and hoping to see cannabis legalized in 2019.

Brown said the group will be working in 2018, ahead of the 2019 long General Assembly session.

"We're trying to grow those numbers, provide them with the information they need to contact their representatives," he said. "Make meetings with them, see them in person, put a face to this issue that's going on in the state."

Along with helping solve the opioid epidemic, Brown believes the move could generate economic growth, especially in rural areas.

"There's a lot of rural communities that were hit hard when the tobacco buyout happened," Brown said. "It's hard for these farmers to keep making a living. Between hemp, and I'd guess you'd call it 'drug cannabis,' there could be a big revitalization to some of these areas," Brown said.

A recent poll of North Carolina voters from Elon University showed 80 percent supported medical marijuana use, while 45 percent supported recreational marijuana use.

CBS 17 talked with North Carolina residents to get their take on the issue.

"If it's something that is going to help people, and give people a better sense of living. and having a good life, then why not," Efland resident Mark Hamlett said.

"I'm not for it, but I'm also not against it for people who do it," Goldsboro resident Schylar Lewis said. "I think definitely, for medical reasons, it should be used."



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NC has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the country, this proposal seeks to change that
RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Lawmakers filed legislation this week that would decriminalize marijuana possession of four ounces or less, while simultaneously raising the amounts that would qualify for a felony charge.

"Lots of people of color and young people are getting busted with possession with intent to sell and deliver. And they're not selling and delivering. What they're doing is purchasing it for their private use," said Representative Allison Dahle, one of the primary sponsors of House Bill 766.

Currently, possession of 1.5 ounces or less is a misdemeanor, with anything above that a felony. If passed, anyone with possession of more than four ounces, but 16 ounces or less of marijuana, would receive a misdemeanor.

"There are tons of people in jail for a pound. And they're sitting in jail on sentences that are not doing anybody any good," Dahle said.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. have expansive medical marijuana programs, and 10 states and Washington, D.C. allow for recreational marijuana use.

"Yes it's illegal, but they don't need to be in our jails. It sets them up for the rest of their life struggling. It sets them up for not being able to get a job, having to check that box that says 'I have a criminal history,'" Dahle argued.

North Carolina has an exception for "hemp extract" to treat intractable epilepsy, but strict medical marijuana use laws outside that.

The legislation has the support of the North Carolina branch of NORML, which stands for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"We have a lot of sponsors this year. More than any previous year," said Keith Caughran, who is part of the NORML Charlotte chapter, referencing the 12 additional sponsors signing on to the proposal.

Dahle acknowledged they have not found any Republicans to support the proposal.

"What's going to get the Republicans to change their mind on this - I would say it would be a fiscal conservative argument that around North Carolina, a lot of the municipalities and counties, the police are spending tens of thousands of hours either on arresting people or issuing citations to them after they're caught during a traffic stop. So every hour that they spend on this, they can't spend rolling up the Opioid trafficking networks," Caughran said.

Last month, a group of lawmakers filed HB 401, specifically addressing medical marijuana.


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