AG Stein: Marijuana decriminalization and legalization study recommended for NC

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The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice task force recommended that the state decriminalize marijuana possession and initiate a study on whether to more broadly legalize cannabis sales.

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” NC Attorney General Josh Stein, who co-chairs the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, said on Wednesday. “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced.”

Stein appears to have the backing from Gov. Roy Cooper, who convened the task force on the issue. A movement to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce and a half of marijuana would make it a civil offense and past convictions should automatically be expunged, the panel said.

Cooper and Stein are likely to create a panel to study what this would mean for North Carolinians. Among the specific details will be possible legalization of possession, cultivation and the sale of cannabis-related products.

Under current state law, possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana is a class 3 misdemeanor, which comes with a fine of up to $200. There were 31,287 such charges and 8,520 convictions in 2019, the task force said, and 61 percent of those convicted were non-white.

Possessing more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days’ imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70 percent of those convicted being non-white.

The task force will issue a formal report on its recommendation to the governor on December 15.