Online Originals: Lighting the debate of marijuana legalization in N.C.

Online Originals

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The number of people in North Carolina who favor legalizing marijuana is growing, according to a new Elon University poll.

Justin Strekal is political director for NORML, a pro-marijuana lobbying foundation. He said people are looking at how pot is used and taxed in other states. 

“Americans are able to see the experiments from Colorado and Washington from 2014,” Strekal said. “Now, up to 15 states representing up to 25% of the population lives in a jurisdiction where marijuana is legal for possession by adults and the sky hasn’t fallen.” 

Elon’s poll suggests 73% of North Carolinians favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. Support for legal recreational use is also growing. In 2017, 51% of those surveyed opposed legal recreational pot. This time, only 34% are opposed. 

“The reality is that American adults enjoy consuming marijuana. Period. Full stop,” says Strekal.

Strekal believes legalizing marijuana creates jobs. 

“These are tax paying positions where an individual has some kind of security,” Strekal said.

The pro-pot lobbyist says governments can impose measures to ensure the drugs are safe. 

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“Through its legalization, state and local governments could impose regulatory controls that would best prevent the concerns about cannabis in general,” Strekal said.

Strekal said legalizing marijuana also provides consumer protections.  

“Legalization would acknowledge that this market place is already thriving in the shadows, and bringing out to a transparent regulated system, to make sure that those who are working in the cannabis industry are doing the same thing that every working American is doing, paying their taxes,” Strekal said. “And that consumers of marijuana, can have similar protections just like every other consumer in the American economy, have legal recourses should there be harm inflected by consumption of the product.”  

Strekal believes there’s currently a racial element in drug enforcement, saying black people are more likely to be arrested for pot possession. 

“It’s unfortunate that right now, we continue to see this criminalization stand and being carried in explicitly racially disparate way.”  

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union finds African Americans are about three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. 

“The time to end marijuana criminalization is now,” Strekal said. “The time to regulate the substance is to ensure product safety, and public safety and consumer safety is now. And hopefully, we’ll see policymakers do that in the state of North Carolina in the near future.”

Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck has a different take. He’s against marijuana legalization. 

“I think a lot of us have a different perspective based off of what we’ve dealt with in our careers for some time,” Buck said.

“There’s just so many different facets to it, and I am a firm believer that marijuana is a gateway drug. Not every person who uses marijuana is not going to be a user of hard drugs. However, I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and I can’t say this person, this man and woman doesn’t exist, but I don’t think I’ve ever met one person who has used marijuana or meth, and started off using meth or heroin.”   

Buck said North Carolina leaders have been working to decriminalize drugs like pot. He also said he and Carteret County are focused on recovery.    

“Well marijuana has been decriminalized, quote-unquote in North Carolina for many years,” Buck said. “The possession of marijuana up to a certain amount is a misdemeanor offense.” 

Buck also said most misdemeanor cases are dismissed for good behavior. If it’s someone’s only offense, their record can be erased. The sheriff argues even if substances are legal and regulated, people will still abuse them. 

“People will still use alcohol in a manner that causes people to be intoxicated, to make bad decisions,” Buck said.

Buck’s experience with Carteret County’s opiod epidemic tells him a lot about the business of drugs.  

“There’s somebody behind this looking to make a dollar,” Buck said. “And they don’t care about the social disorder it will cause. They don’t care about the wake of human debris that it’s going to cause.”  

What the sheriff knows about his community’s views contradict this poll.

“I feel pretty confident in saying that the overwhelming majority wouldn’t want their children using marijuana,” Buck said.

Buck said leaders need to be careful regulating substances, especially with addictions being a big problem in the state.   

“I think our society needs to send a message that using drugs, is not a good thing to do,” Buck said.

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