A new bill could make the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana no longer a misdemeanor, but a civil infraction, if the bill passes and becomes law.
A bill introduced by State Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr. (D-Mecklenburg) to downgrade the penalty for simple possession of marijuana in North Carolina passed first reading Wednesday and was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
HB 637 would replace criminal penalties for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana with a civil infraction similar to a traffic ticket. Simple marijuana possession is currently classified as a Class 3 criminal misdemeanor and is punishable by a suspended sentence and a $200 fine.
A majority — 56 percent — of North Carolina voters believe the penalty for marijuana possession should entail only a fine, according to a Public Policy Polling survey of 611 voters released in March.
Robert Capecchi, Deputy Director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “We applaud Rep. Alexander and his House colleagues for championing a more sensible marijuana policy for the Tar Heel State. Nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Police and prosecutors’ time and resources would be better spent focusing on violent and otherwise serious crimes instead of enforcing criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.”
With only eight weeks left in legislative session, and between 600 and 700 bills to go through, State Rep. Ken Goodman of Richmond County said he isn’t sure the bill will be read. He said he hasn’t had time to read the bill himself, but feels there are bigger bills coming down the line that will affect more people in North Carolina.
Vietnam veteran, medical cannabis advocate and President of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network (NCCPN) Perry Parks said this is a simple bill that could help prevent many young people caught with marijuana from having their lives impacted by a criminal conviction.
“One marijuana cigarette kills your education. Do we want to do this to the future of our children?” said Parks, of Rockingham.
Parks cited the recent poll that showed over half of North Carolinians are against marijuana laws.
“The legislature doesn’t seem to understand the public,” said Parks. “How long before they catch up? Doesn’t it make you question the whole system of democracy? This bill could stop the criminality associated with cannabis.”
Renewed public discussion of marijuana and the laws surrounding it may be driving more interest in the NCCPN.
Parks said his organization’s website, www.nccpn.org, has recently seen a large spike in traffic. He said the website had been averaging about 500 guests a day, but lately has seen as many as 3,000 to 4,000 during the evenings.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-Brunswick, New Hanover), Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), Rep. Rodney Moore (D- Mecklenburg), and Rep. Bobbie Richardson (D-Franklin).
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.