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North Carolina lawmakers have proposed a bill in each chamber of the state legislature to decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of cannabis. Under current state law, possession of half an ounce or less of pot is a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to 20 days in jail, which is usually suspended. The new bills would allow individuals to possess up to four ounces of marijuana, beyond which they could face a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Possession of between 0.5 and 1.5 ounces of pot is currently a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 120 days in jail, and possession of between 1.5 oz and 10 pounds is a Class 1 felony punishable by up to 8 months in jail. The new bills would also change these amounts, making the possession of between four ounces and a pound of weed a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The bills would also allow anyone who had previously been charged with possession of four ounces of cannabis or less to petition to have their conviction expunged from their criminal records.
The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by state Sens. Paul Lowe, Milton “Toby” Fitch, and Valerie Foushee, was introduced last Thursday and sent to the state Senate Rules Committee. The House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Alexander, was sent to the House Judiciary Committee, and would move from there to the House Finance Committee. If the two bills were approved by the committees, passed by the full legislature, and then signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper, they would go into effect on July 1st.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that these bills will even make it out of committee. The current legislative session is set to end before July 4th, and the legislature's Republican leadership is making the state budget bill the priority for the end of the session. North Carolina has also been exceptionally slow to embrace cannabis reform, and remains one of the minority of U.S. states that does not even have a medical cannabis program.
The decriminalization bills have already drawn opposition from several lawmakers and local prosecutors. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill told the Winston-Salem Journal that classifying “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 district attorney also claimed that many of the robberies and murders in his jurisdiction are “already drug related,” and expressed concerns that the new legislation would “increase the number of targeted victims legally walking around (with four ounces of marijuana) every day.”