Governor Wants Changes to North Carolina Marijuana Laws

On the heels of President Joe Biden’s decision to grant pardons to those convicted of federal marijuana possession charges, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is pushing lawmakers at the state capital to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in his state.

Cooper, a Democrat, is attempting to make the change by working with the Republican-led legislature in North Carolina. He’s already previously failed in an attempt to lower the penalties for cannabis possession. At the time, lawmakers did not act on recommendations of a task force Cooper formed to address racial equity and criminal justice in the state.

But he’s ready to try again. “Conviction of simple possession can mar people’s records for life and maybe even prevent them from getting a job,” Cooper recently told members of the task force, according to FOX News. “The General Assembly didn’t pass your recommendations on this last session, but I believe they should. North Carolina should take steps to end this stigma.”

The Current State of North Carolina Marijuana Laws

Neither medical or recreational marijuana is legal in North Carolina. Currently, those in North Carolina arrested by police for cannabis possession face a variety of criminal charges based on the amount they possess.

  • For half an ounce or less, it’s a misdemeanor with a maximum $200 fine
  • For half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces, it’s a misdemeanor with a maximum $1,000 fine and the potential of up to 45 days in jail
  • For more than 1.5 ounces, it’s a felony with a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 3 to 8 months in jail

Cooper wants a reduction of the penalty in the first two areas. He continues to back the findings of his criminal justice task force, which in 2020 recommended replacing the two misdemeanor charges with a civil fine, the same approach taken for violations such as traffic and parking tickets.

Governor Backed By Attorney General

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who chairs the task force, also spoke in favor of the change. In Tweets sent out after Biden’s decision, Stein said the president is right and that people should not have a criminal record for something that is legal in a growing number of states. Recreational marijuana currently is legal in 19 states, while medical marijuana is legal in 39 states.

“Let’s act – and let’s get it right. That means decriminalizing adult use, expunging past convictions for simple possession, and including strong protections for kids, no advertising, state controlled sales, and putting NC farmers first,” he said.

Cooper also has directed state lawyers to determine if North Carolina can take action to pardon those convicted in the past of possessing small amounts of marijuana.

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