NC Racial Equity task force considers legalizing certain possession amounts of drugs

Attorney General Josh Stein speaks at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH — A state task force created to improve equity in the North Carolina criminal justice system is looking at possible legalization for the possession of certain amounts of marijuana.

The N.C Racial Equity Taskforce In Criminal Justice (RETCJ) is co-chaired by N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls. Gov. Roy Cooper also appointed two legislators to the task force, Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) and Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Charlotte). Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety Erik Hooks is also a member.

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” said Stein in a press release. “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced. Additionally, it is time for North Carolina to start having real conversations about a safe, measured, public health approach to potentially legalizing marijuana.”

At their meeting on Nov. 18, members of RETCJ recommend forming a separate task force to study the legalization of possessing, growing and/or selling marijuana.

Other recommendations included:

  • Legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by making such possession a civil offense and expunge past convictions through an automatic process.
  • Improve drug enforcement data collection and reporting.
  • De-emphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) felony drug possession arrests for trace quantities under .25 grams in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • De-emphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) marijuana possession arrests in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • Prosecutors should immediately deprioritize marijuana-related prosecution in non-ABC permitted locations.

RETCJ will release a report with its full recommendations to Cooper on Dec. 15.

Current laws for possessing marijuana are misdemeanors. Half an ounce of marijuana is a Class 3 misdemeanor, and the fine is around $200. According to Stein’s press release, last year there were “31,287 charges and 8,520 convictions for this offense; 61 percent of those convicted were nonwhite.”

Greater quantities up to an ounce and a half is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The fine is the same but includes up to 45 days in prison. Stein’s release says that in 2019 there were “3,422 charges and 1,909 convictions for this offense; 70 percent of those convicted were nonwhite.”

On North Carolina arrests involving marijuana, Earls said that “63% of people convicted of simple possession of marijuana last year were non-white, even though people of color are only 30% of the population.” She added that research has shown that marijuana use is at roughly equal percentages for both races.

Stein’s website houses a page dedicated to RETCJ which touts “transparent meetings.” The working group led by Morey gave a presentation on Nov. 18 titled “Marijuana Decriminalization and Further Study of Legalization.”  That presentation is not posted to the official RETCJ website or Stein’s dedicated page. The video of the meeting including Morey’s presentation also was not available on the associated YouTube channel playlist. In fact, the last videos uploaded date back to August.

Upon request, RETCJ furnished North State Journal with a PowerPoint presentation that covered all topics discussed during the meeting.

About A.P. Dillon 983 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_