NC Racial Equality Task Force recommends decriminalizing marijuana possession in small amounts

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A racial equality task force convened by Gov. Roy Cooper announced recommendations pertaining to marijuana in North Carolina – including decriminalize marijuana possession in small amounts and to further study the potential legalization of marijuana possession, cultivation, and sale.

The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, co-chaired by Justice Anita Earls and Attorney General Josh Stein, adopted the recommendations on Wednesday.

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced.

“Additionally, it is time for North Carolina to start having real conversations about a safe, measured, public health approach to potentially legalizing marijuana.”

Currently in North Carolina, possession of up to ½ ounce of marijuana is a class 3 misdemeanor, not subject to imprisonment but subject to a fine up to $200.

In 2019, there were 31,287 charges and 8,520 convictions for this offense; 61 percent of those convicted were nonwhite.

“Data made available to the Task Force shows that 63 percent of the more than 10,000 convictions for simple possession of marijuana last year in North Carolina are people of color even though they are only 30 percent of the population and research documents that marijuana use is at roughly equal percentages among Black and white populations,” said Earls.

Recommendations adopted by the Task Force:

  • Legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by making such possession a civil offense and expunge past convictions through an automatic process.  
  • North Carolina convene a Task Force of stakeholders, free from conflict of interest, to study the pros and cons and options for legalization of possession, cultivation and/or sale, including government or not for profit monopoly options. The study should be guided by a public safety, public health, and racial equity framework.  
  • Improve drug enforcement data collection and reporting by:
  • Requiring every law enforcement agency to participate fully in the NIBRS system
  • Requiring every law enforcement agency to publish drug enforcement data on its department website in easy searchable fashion, including number of arrests and citations by drug, quantity, race, gender, and reason for search. This may necessitate providing additional resources to law enforcement agencies, especially smaller agencies.
  • Deemphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) felony drug possession arrests for trace quantities under .25 grams in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • Deemphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) marijuana possession arrests in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • Prosecutors should immediately deprioritize marijuana-related prosecution in non-ABC permitted locations.   

The Task Force will release a report to Cooper on Dec. 15 with its full recommendations.

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