INDIAN TRAIL – Indian Trail Town Councilman Chris King is working to get people in Union County and across the state talking about changing the rules governing marijuana usage and possession in North Carolina.
King believes the state legislature should legalize marijuana for medical reasons, but not for recreational use – and has heard support from many of the people he’s spoken with on the topic, he said.
“For the most part, it’s been mixed reactions, but not in the sense of keeping marijuana illegal,” King said. “The reactions I get is to what degree should marijuana be legal. Most everyone I talk with agrees that marijuana should be legal for medical purposes. It is past that point where I start getting varied reactions. Some people are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use while others are flat out against the idea. Me, I fall on the conservative side of legalizing marijuana for medical reasons.”
The town of Portland, Maine, recently voted to make possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana legal for adults 21 years old and older. While Portland is the first city on the East Coast to legalize marijuana, the town’s police chief said the department will enforce state laws, which prohibit possession – and King stands with the police chief.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for towns to start passing ordinances legalizing drugs,” he said. “This needs to be handled by the state and only the state. But in order for the type of legislation to pass, it’s going to require a bottoms-up approach, meaning support starts with the towns and rises to the state.”
N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander, who represents a portion of Mecklenburg County, recently sponsored a bill calling for the state to study issues related to the medical use of cannabis. Since a state studies bill wasn’t approved this year, the measure has stalled for now.
“Over the last couple of sessions, there has been several approaches” to changing laws that cover the usage of marijuana, Alexander said. “The approach with the most traction was a bill that would have regulated medical cannabis, similar to Colorado.”
Alexander said three to four hundred people visited the legislature in support of the bill, but it was put on the “unfavorable calendar,” he said.
The bill, filed in April, now must wait for the General Assembly to come back into session before Alexander said there is hope of it moving forward. It’s unlikely the bill will find any footing during the short legislative session in May and likely will have to wait until 2015 after the November
Despite that, Alexander said it’s an issue that needs to be discussed, pointing to surveys that indicate more than half of the state’s residents are in favor of changing marijuana possession and usage rules. At the very least, Alexander argues some policies need to change to benefit the ill.
“Lately, one of the biggest pieces of feedback revolves around kids who have conditions that respond favorably to very low THC cannabis products, which they can’t get legally in North Carolina,” Alexander said. “A number of families have expressed a sadness that they may have to move to Colorado to treat their kids legally as opposed to staying in North Carolina, which is what they would like to do.”
Opposition to loosening rules regulating marijuana usage is still high, despite surveys showing opinion is shifting on the topic. Many point to a slippery slope, arguing legalization of marijuana usage in any case may cause or lead to an increased usage of illegal drugs and erosion of the moral standing against drug usage of any kind.
N.C. Sen. Tommy Tucker, who represents Union County in Raleigh, said in a statement through his office on Wednesday, Jan. 8, that he would not be part of any legislation that would loosen any current marijuana laws or decrease the punishment for people charged with marijuana possession.
Alexander isn’t interested in what he calls “irrational reactions.”
“You can put all the evidence in the world in front of people about how cancer patients and all types of folks can benefit from cannabis, but there is a reaction that we don’t want to permit access to this,” he
Alexander urges people to contact their legislative leaders and let them know where they stand on the issue, while King is hoping to start the conversation in Indian Trail and spread it through Union County. While Alexander notes legalizing marijuana is an issue of personal liberty and medical efficacy, King adds it could be a financial windfall for the state. The national market for medical marijuana is estimated to grow to $8.9 billion by 2016. King, who expects pushback from some of his colleagues and constituents, hopes North Carolina will join the 20 other states and Washington, D.C., to have medical marijuana
“Every day we talk about it is a day closer to ending marijuana prohibition,” King said. “It’ll take time, but in the end, I think North Carolina will be the first state in the South to legalize marijuana. Our state will serve as a beacon to the rest of the Southern states on how to capitalize on a plant that is grown in all four corners of our country. But it all starts with local support.
“That’s why towns need to get involved and show our state lawmakers that sensible marijuana policy reform is a good thing for the state of North Carolina.”