With Virginia moving forward, state Democratic leaders want NC to be next to legalize marijuana

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With Virginia moving forward with legalizing marijuana, some Democrats in North Carolina are pushing for North Carolina to be next.

A bill filed this week in the Senate would legalize it for medical purposes, while another bill would fully legalize it, including recreationally.

“Medical use of marijuana should be the top priority, but it was important for me to also look at beginning the conversations around legalizing the recreational use of marijuana because so many other states are moving on this,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), one of the primary sponsors of the bill to legalize marijuana.

“This issue ultimately is about restorative justice.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Thirty-six states have legalized marijuana for medical uses, according to NCSL.

Virginia’s General Assembly met Wednesday to vote on a bill to speed up the process of legalizing marijuana, including allowing possession in July.

Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) compared the situation to several years ago when people would cross the state line to buy lottery tickets.

She said, “I think you’ll see the same with cannabis. You’ll see folks that will go to Virginia. And, why should they get all those tax benefits and leave our state when we could get those tax benefits right here?”

The bill to legalize recreational marijuana has several provisions. You would have to be at least 21 years old to use marijuana, with limits being in place on the amount you could possess. You could not use it in public places. There would be a 20 percent state sales tax with the option for local governments to add on a 3 percent tax. The bill also provides for automatic expunctions for certain crimes related to marijuana.

“This issue ultimately is about restorative justice,” Chaudhuri said. “The bulk of that work has to take place at the state (level) because that’s where the records are.”

Chaudhuri said tax revenue from sales would go to a variety of initiatives, such as helping lower-income people to purchase homes, substance abuse treatment, as well as education and training for people interested in getting into the cannabis industry.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said last week there is not support among his party’s members to move forward with legalization either for medical use or recreational. He did say there is growing support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, but it’s unclear if a bill to do that will come up for a vote during the legislative session.

“We are at an inflection point where we cannot continue to criminalize folks that are using small amounts of marijuana, and we need to stop locking up Black and brown people,” Murdock said.

A poll earlier this year by Elon University found 73 percent of North Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use while 18 percent oppose it. When asked if people support legalizing it for recreational purposes, 54 percent said yes while 34 percent oppose that.

Sen. Tom McInnis (R-25th District) said he’s opposed to full legalization.

“There’s always the debate about it’s a non-addictive drug and all that. I take the opposite approach. It’s a gateway drug, and I’m not supporting marijuana in any way, shape, manner, or form,” he said.

But when asked about legalizing it for medical purposes, he said, “Oh, that’s a different story. It’s got to be researched. It’s got to be proven. I want to see the data.”

Jani Ramquist, who has been lobbying for marijuana legalization on behalf of NC NORML, said research has shown states that have legalized it have seen a reduction in overdoses of other drugs such as opioids.

“Even though 36 states legalized it, I can’t order something from a legal state and have it mailed legally to me,” she said, noting cannabis could help her with the treatment of severe back pain.

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