A new survey has found that many prominent leaders in North Carolina support marijuana policy reform. The survey of 60 influential North Carolinians focusing on criminal justice is part of an ongoing series by newspapers the News & Observer, the Herald-Sun, and the Charlotte Observer.
Although many of the political, business, and society leaders expressed an interest in changing cannabis laws, they did not agree on how far reform should go. Some favored legalizing marijuana for medical or even recreational use, while others believed it should remain illegal but be decriminalized.
Former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue believes that medical marijuana should be legalized and that recreational pot should be decriminalized. Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl said that decriminalizing marijuana is the one action that could have the most impact on reducing crime. Some business leaders suggested that marijuana should be legalized and taxed.
Pat McCrory, a former Republican governor, wants the state to educate the public on the potential dangers of marijuana before decriminalizing or legalizing pot.
“First, we need to educate the public on long-term addiction, safety and mental health issues related to all drugs including marijuana,” McCrory said.
Some of those surveyed, including Duke University School of Law professor James Coleman, noted that there is racial bias in the prosecution of cannabis laws.
“The criminalization of marijuana possession is the equivalent of a throw down gun that the police can use when it is convenient to remove people they consider undesirable,” said Coleman. “If that was not the case, most arrests likely would take place on college campuses around the state, rather than poor minority neighborhoods.”
Nearly all of those surveyed agreed that racial bias exists in the criminal justice system. But Thomas Stith, an African-American and former chief of staff to McCrory, said that bias is an individual issue and not systemic.
“Our justice system is a commendable model,” Stith said. “Some of the people who implement the system are not.”
Banking executive Mark Rizer said that it is clear that blacks are not treated equally under the law.
“There are many empirical studies which indicate that African Americans are treated less well than whites under similar situations (e.g., death penalty sentencing),” Rizer said. “This is an issue that has gotten the attention of both the right and left and should be a problem that unites us.”
Gun rights activist Paul Valone said that decriminalizing marijuana “would reduce the incentive for criminal gangs to smuggle illegal drugs into the U.S. and reduce over-zealous prosecution of drug laws.”
“The fact is that prohibition didn’t work for liquor, it isn’t working for drugs, and it won’t work for guns,” Valone added.
But not everyone who responded to the survey believes that marijuana laws should be relaxed. Former Gov. Jim Martin, also a Republican, does not support the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis. Pearl Burris-Floyd, the only black female Republican on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, said that she even opposes legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis.
“I would not support the legalization of marijuana because the use of this drug would not be limited to medical use,” Burris-Floyd said.
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