Most states now have legal medical marijuana, but N.C. lags behind

Most states now have legal medical marijuana, but N.C. lags behind

Hempstar Farms in Raleigh is on track to produce a total of 76 acres of hemp in 2020. (Photo courtesy Native Ceuticals, a Mooresville-based company that sources from this farm.)

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Marijuana won big this election, gaining legal ground in five states, but it remains illegal in North Carolina. That’s not expected to change with the state’s incoming legislature.

Why it matters: Coronavirus has left deep scars on our economy, and proponents of legal marijuana say it could be the jump-start North Carolina needs. Especially for the state’s many tobacco farmers, some of whom have already leaned into the rising hemp industry. In 420-friendly states like Colorado and Washington, marijuana sales has generated hundreds of millions in tax revenue and employed tens of thousands.

Opponents, however, cite a lack of research on the drug’s effects and potential risk factors.

Public opinion: 72.5 percent of N.C. residents support legal marijuana for medical purposes, according to a recent poll. Unlike other states, legalization can’t be put to a public vote; it’s up to the state legislature. Still, constituents play an important role in any path forward through their vote and their voice.


Should marijuana be legalized in North Carolina for medical purposes?

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Where legalization stands: Federally, marijuana is illegal, but a majority of states have now legalized it for medical or recreational use, or both.

  • Marijuana possession is decriminalized in N.C. Possessing half an ounce or less could result in a $200 fine, but more could lead to jail time and a hefty fine. Local municipalities have discretion over fines and incarceration, meaning punishment varies from person to person. An Observer investigation in 2016 found that Black Charlotteans are more likely to be arrested than white Charlotteans, though consumption is generally the same.
  • N.C.’s Farm Act left out hemp regulation from its final version in June, keeping the budding business — smokable hemp in particular — in a legal gray area. Industrial hemp, often used for rope, paper, and CBD, remains in its “pilot” stage.
  • The path to legalization could come faster via the federal government than the state legislature, NC NORML executive director Katrina Ramquist Wesson says. “We’re not waiting on federal legalization, but we’re obviously hoping it happens.”

Meanwhile, CBD business is gaining momentum. North Carolina’s climate is prime for growing hemp, and a number of tobacco farmers have made the shift, filling orders for new and fast-growing CBD companies based locally. The industry, which has tapped into the mainstream wellness market, is predicted to hit $24 billion by 2023 nationwide.

And if or when marijuana is legalized, it’s not a hard transition for farmers. That could mean big money for the farmers, locally-based CBD companies like Native Ceuticals, and local and state economies as a whole.

hemp product

Crop from Hempstar Farms in Raleigh, the hemp farm for Mooresville-based Native Ceuticals. (Photo courtesy)

But will it happen? One of the most vocal advocates for the legalization of marijuana is Jenna Wadsworth, who lost her race to become N.C.’s next commissioner of agriculture to incumbent Steve Troxler, who opposes legalization. For proponents of legal marijuana — both for social justice and economic reasons — this was a setback.

Wesson, however, thinks NC NORML, the state wing of the national marijuana reform organization, has never been better positioned to fight for legalization.

“We have not been this organized in North Carolina before,” she says. “Do we think it’s going to be this session? Doubtful but … you never know when the little window is going to crack open.”


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