Recent legislative efforts reflect a growing interest in cannabis legalization in North Carolina, with multiple bills pending in the state legislature.
In April 2023, North Carolina lawmakers filed two bills to legalize recreational marijuana: House Bill 626 and Senate Bill 346. House Bill 626, filed by four Democratic members with co-sponsorship from eight colleagues, would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older.
A SurveyUSA poll conducted in 2021 showed that 57% of North Carolina voters support legalizing cannabis for adults, while 32% believe recreational marijuana should remain illegal. State Representative Kelly Alexander, one of the sponsors of House Bill 626, noted that it is time for citizens to use cannabis without stigma and fear of arrest.
House Bill 626 also proposes a framework for producing and selling recreational marijuana for adults. In addition, the bill includes social equity provisions to support communities negatively impacted by prohibition. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 346, filed in March 2023 by four Democratic senators, would legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana or 15 grams of cannabis concentrates by adults. The bill also permits the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants at home.
Both bills outline regulatory frameworks for recreational marijuana production and sales and emphasize social equity efforts. Senate Bill 346 proposes a 20% tax on marijuana products, allowing local governments to add an additional tax of 3%.
The Economic Impact of Cannabis Legalization in North Carolina
Cannabis legalization has the potential to create a significant number of jobs in North Carolina. From cultivation and processing to retail sales and ancillary services, the industry would require skilled labor across various sectors. In states that have legalized cannabis, thousands of new jobs have been created, and North Carolina could expect similar results.
Tax Revenue and Economic Growth
Legalizing cannabis could also result in increased tax revenue for North Carolina. The state would benefit from sales tax, excise taxes, and licensing fees by regulating and taxing the industry. This additional revenue could be used to fund education, healthcare, and infrastructure projects, improving the quality of life for residents.
The Future of Cannabis Legalization in North Carolina
The future of cannabis legalization in North Carolina remains uncertain, as recent developments indicate a shift in public opinion and political discourse, particularly around medical marijuana.
Medical Marijuana Legalization Gaining Traction
Top North Carolina House lawmaker, House Speaker Tim Moore (R), has acknowledged that medical marijuana legalization has a better chance of passing this year than ever before. Moore expects the Senate-passed reform bill to be taken up by the Republican caucus within the next month. While the GOP-controlled House has previously blocked medical cannabis legislation from advancing, its prospects have improved, with a floor vote possible depending on the Republican members’ stance this session.
Senator Bill Rabon’s (R) medical cannabis bill, SB 3, cleared the Senate last month. It would allow patients with qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, and multiple sclerosis, to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries. Advocates are confident about the legislation’s chances in the Senate, but the GOP-controlled House’s approach to the issue remains less certain.
Changing Political Landscape and Public Support
Speaker Tim Moore has noticed a shift in the political landscape, with many new members joining the ranks. He estimates that over 50 percent of members now support medical cannabis, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the bill moved forward. However, this change in tone marks a significant departure from Moore’s previous concerns about Rabon’s bill.
A poll released in February found that around three in four North Carolinians support medical cannabis legalization. Governor Roy Cooper (D) said in December that a medical marijuana legalization bill has an opportunity to pass this session. He also reiterated his support for the broader decriminalization of cannabis possession, noting racial disparities in enforcement.
Key Provisions of SB 3
SB 3 includes several key provisions:
- Patients with a “debilitating medical condition,” such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD, would be allowed to access cannabis.
- Smoking and vaping would also be allowed, but doctors would need to prescribe a specific delivery method and dosages for patients. They would also need to reevaluate patients’ eligibility for the program at least once a year.
- The bill provides for up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers who control the cultivation and sale of cannabis. Each supplier can operate up to eight dispensaries.
- A Compassionate Use Advisory Board would be established to add new qualifying medical conditions.
- A Medical Cannabis Production Commission would be created to ensure an adequate supply of cannabis for patients, oversee licensing, and generate enough revenue to regulate the program.
- The legislation would create a North Carolina Cannabis Research Program to conduct objective, scientific research on the use of cannabis as part of medical treatment.
The Road Ahead
The future of cannabis legalization in North Carolina depends on the evolving political landscape, public opinion, and the progress of bills like SB 3. As more lawmakers and citizens express their support for medical cannabis legalization, the chances of success increase. The state must continue to monitor developments and adapt to changing circumstances to determine the most effective path forward for cannabis policy.