It is time to exit the pot closet
By: Rhiannon Fionn
Welcome to the first installment of Carolina Cannabis Now. Now let’s get busy because the time to exit the pot closet is upon us and we have much work to do.
Freedom is what we’re talking about here, and now is the time to demand the freedom to choose cannabis in North Carolina. While the federal government could decriminalize marijuana, it’s likely to remain a states’ rights issue. So ready your helmets, folks, because we all know dealing with the General Assembly is akin to banging your head on a concrete wall, especially where personal freedoms are concerned.
So, what do we want? Freedom from the fear that our Fourth Amendment rights may be violated if we smell like smoke or are caught driving while young, male and black. Freedom to possess a plant, in its various forms, without fear of imprisonment or having the government seize our children. Freedom to practice our First Amendment rights in support of an issue that matters to many who rely on cannabis for their health and to those who simply want a safe alternative to alcohol and other drugs that could be addictive and harmful. We also demand the freedom to become cannabis entrepreneurs in what is a billion-dollar – and growing – industry.
I’ll tell ya, that sense of freedom is a glorious thing. On the day recreational cannabis became available for sale in Seattle, where I lived at the time, I was in line when the stores opened. The moment offered a glimpse of the “free market” conservatives and libertarians fantasize about, and it was a relief in so many ways.
We can experience that same freedom and relief in North Carolina but to get there we must speak up now: help dispel cannabis myths among your circle of influence, call your representatives in the General Assembly to let them know your views and to ask about theirs, and if any of them are misinformed inform them.
Now that we’re able to research cannabis more freely, thanks largely to legalization in other states, we’re learning what so many suspected all along: It’s a helpful, medicinal plant that rarely causes harm and has killed no one, ever, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Our legislators need to get a clue – especially amid the ongoing and rampant heroin epidemic – that marijuana is less like heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine and more like the spearmint plant, which also has medicinal properties and can be smoked, infused into food and drink and a variety of products such as gum and toothpaste.
Most Carolinians are already clued in and they want cannabis reform. According to Elon University polling data, support for reform among Democrats’ and Independents’ has remained steady for years – more than 80 percent, but what’s critical is that Republican support is on the rise. In 2013, Elon’s survey found that 66 percent of Republicans support legalizing medical marijuana. By 2017, that number was 73 percent. At a recent Conservatives for Clean Energy luncheon, political analyst Paul Shoemaker told the crowd, “Anything over 80 percent, when you’re doing polling, is pretty much universal.”
That means it’s high time for the North Carolina General Assembly to get serious about decriminalizing cannabis. As we reported recently, multiple marijuana reform bills have been filed over the years and all have languished in committee. The most recent is House Bill 994, introduced by Charlotte’s Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Democrat and the guy who usually files the pot bills. That bill is languishing in a committee filled with old, white Republican men and is unlikely to get any action before the legislature skedaddles – if they get their way – before Independence Day.
Alexander has vowed to introduce another cannabis reform bill when the General Assembly returns for its long session in January, and, if history is any indicator, Greensboro’s Rep. Pricey Harrison, also a Democrat, will likely co-sponsor it. But then we’re back to the same go-nowhere cycle we’ve been in for more than a decade.
Presently, it’s difficult to get a North Carolina Republican on record with any thoughts on cannabis. When I inquired with Sen. Jeff Tarte’s office about HB 994, his representative, Jan Copeland, responded via email writing, “Senator Tarte supports de-criminalizing small amounts.”
I pushed for more – what about medicinal marijuana? What about hemp? What is a “small amount.”? Copeland responded, “Four ounces or less … [Sen. Tarte] supports Rep. Alexander’s bill as long as it does not legalize but decriminalizes four ounces or less.”
I asked again, “To clarify – Sen. Tarte is not taking a position on citizens growing their own marijuana or hemp plants? And he is not taking a position on medicinal marijuana?” There was no response.
Then, I ran into Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican representing Mint Hill and Matthews. He told me he has no opinion on cannabis at all. I asked why. He explained that he doesn’t think there is any support in the General Assembly for marijuana reform of any kind, therefore he didn’t need an opinion.
Well, fellas, here’s your warning: Your brand of legislative laziness cannot stand. The people of North Carolina are telling you, via the polls, that they want the freedom to choose cannabis to use in whatever way they see fit. Expect their voices to increase in volume or, as Rep. Alexander told me, “… ignore this groundswell at [your] peril.”