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Racial Task Force recommendation: Decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession

Photo: Getty images.

North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has adopted recommendations that include decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and further studying the  potential legalization, cultivation, and sale of marijuana.

The task force, established last July by Gov. Roy Cooper,  is co-chaired by Attorney General Josh Stein and state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls.

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” said Stein in a statement from his office.

“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.”

North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice met virtually and voted on the recommendations Wednesday.

“Data made available to the Task Force shows that 63 percent of the more than 10,000 convictions for simple possession of marijuana last year in North Carolina are people of color even though they are only 30 percent of the population and research documents that marijuana use is at roughly equal percentages among Black and white populations,” said Justice Anita Earls.

Earls said the recommendation is intended to help alleviate long-standing racial disparities in North Carolina’s criminal justice system.

Last year there were more than 31,000 charges and 8,520 convictions for possession of up to ½ ounce of marijuana. Sixty-one percent of those who were convicted were nonwhite.

Other recommendations that will be presented to Governor Cooper in a report December 15th include:

  • The Task Force further recommends that North Carolina convene a Task Force of stakeholders, free from conflict of interest, to study the pros and cons and options for legalization of possession, cultivation and/or sale, including government or not for profit monopoly options. The study should be guided by a public safety, public health, and racial equity framework.
  • Improve drug enforcement data collection and reporting by:
    • Requiring every law enforcement agency to participate fully in the NIBRS system
    • Requiring every law enforcement agency to publish drug enforcement data on its department website in easy searchable fashion, including number of arrests and citations by drug, quantity, race, gender, and reason for search. This may necessitate providing additional resources to law enforcement agencies, especially smaller agencies.
  • Deemphasize (or make the lowest drug law enforcement priority) felony drug possession arrests for trace quantities under .25 grams in non-ABC permitted locations.
  • Deemphasize (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.

The North Carolina General Assembly will convenes for the long 2021 session on January 31. It’s unclear if they will move forward with these recommendations.

One Comment


  1. Anthony Noel

    November 22, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Except this:
    https://norml.org/laws/north-carolina-penalties-2/

    Per the link, “small” amounts (UP TO 1/2 ounce) were long ago decriminalized in NC. You don’t get incarcerated if the charge is possession of LESS than 1/2 ounce; you get a misdemeanor, pay $200, and head home.

    So, did the task force look at and include data for such misdemeanors? If not, and if the number of convictions cited includes only those ending in incarceration (the issue the task force was tasked with studying), the story should read “OVER 1/2 ounce,” not “…8,520 convictions for possession of UP TO 1/2 ounce of marijuana” (EMPHASES added)?

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