What Does Future Pot Legalization in Virginia Mean for North Carolina? | Beaufort County Now | As the chief of police in Roxboro, David Hess’s office is fewer than 15 miles from the Virginia border.

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Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal. The author of this post is Dallas Woodhouse.

    As the chief of police in Roxboro, David Hess's office is fewer than 15 miles from the Virginia border. He has seen more than his fair share of crime fueled by drugs.

    He knows his job could prove more difficult as Virginia lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that will legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, but not until 2024, when retail sales of the drug will be permitted.

    State Senator Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, tweeted that "North Carolina should follow the lead of our neighbors in Virginia."

    But as Roxboro Police chief and a past president of the North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs, Hess says that move would be wrong for North Carolina.

    "There is a reason marijuana is illegal and should remain so," said Hess. "Increased use and access to marijuana increases fatal accidents and fatalities, will lead to more crime and further our problems with opioid addiction. Therefore, the North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs strongly opposes efforts to legalize the drug."

    The National Academy of Sciences in a 2017 report and the National Institutes of Health in a 2018 report reference various studies on the impact of marijuana consumption on driver performance states that cannabis use before driving increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

    Virginia will become the first Southern state to vote to legalize marijuana, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia.

    In November, a state panel appointed by Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper and chaired by two high-profile elected Democrats recommended that "North Carolina essentially legalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, making it a civil offense and expunging past convictions," as reported by the Winston-Salem Journal.

    Members of the N.C. Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, co-chaired by Attorney General Josh Stein and N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, also recommend a separate task force to study the legalization of possessing, growing, and/or selling marijuana.

    "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," said N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein.

    Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, a Charlotte Democrat and public defender, told the News and Observer he would support legalization as a way to reduce the number of times people of color interact with law enforcement — but with the state strictly regulating marijuana sales, similar to the ABC system used to control liquor.

    "I'm trying to see how we reduce people of colors' contact with law enforcement at the end of the day, which leads to horrible things happening," he said.

    Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Charlotte, has sponsored bills to legalize possession of pot numerous times during his decade in the legislature.

    Alexander told WCNC in 2019 he believed that some sort of legalization would happen relatively soon.

    "If we don't do it this biennium, we're going to be very, very close," said Alexander.

    Writing in the Winston-Salem Journal, columnist Scott sexton argues for pot legalization because Virginia is set to see a wave of new tax dollars coming from North Carolinians.

    "Studies in Virginia estimate their tax haul will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million annually.

    How much of that will come from the pockets of North Carolinians?

    History of vice, prohibition, and taxation suggests it will run to tens of millions, money going to Richmond rather than Raleigh — essentially up in smoke."


    Rep. Sarah Stevens, who lives in Surry County along the Virginia border, says North Carolina should avoid the "reefer madness" sweeping places like Virginia, telling the Mount Airy News that she does not see the Republican-led General Assembly moving towards legalizing pot.

    "I would say that I do not unless we have to if the federal government takes some steps," she said. For example, the national legalization of marijuana would supersede state laws and prompt them to set up distribution mechanisms.

    Eddie Caldwell, the executive vice president and general counsel of the N.C. Sheriffs' association says, "In the past, the association has been opposed to the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

    While it is unlikely the Republican-led legislature will legalize pot, North Carolina may still see some type of legalization soon. As reported by Spectrum News:

    In western North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is getting to consider making medical marijuana legal in the region as part of a broader legalization effort on tribal land.

    "The people want cannabis, the world is changing, society is changing," says Jeremy Wilson, a former Tribal Council member.

    However, Colorado Sen. John Cooke, a former Weld County, Colorado sheriff, says North Carolina law enforcement should be concerned about Virginia's pending legalization and North Carolina citizens should be wary of any efforts making marijuana more available in the Tar Heel State.

    "It is still horrible," said Cooke in an interview with CJ.

    "We have seen an increase in homelessness, we have seen an increase in driving under the influence of marijuana. Our emergency rooms have seen an increase in marijuana overdose cases, we have seen an increase in juvenile use.

    And, more important, the black market has not gone away. Forty-five percent of the marijuana sold in Colorado is coming from the black market, and it is not the marijuana people smoked in the 1950s and 1960s, it is extremely potent and dangerous."


    Cooke confirms in his experience as a legislator that the revenue from legal pot sales is nowhere near the social costs of drug dependency, a reduction of the work ethic, and increased crime that includes robberies of marijuana dispensaries and retail outlets. Those places must operate on a cash basis because the federal government prohibits them from accessing banks.

    Meanwhile, Cooke says North Carolina police, especially along the border of Virginia, should get ready.

    "Be vigilant and be prepared for more driving under the influence and more crime."

    Cooke is married to the chief executive officer of John Locke Foundation Amy Cooke. She is also the publisher of Carolina Journal.
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