NORTH CAROLINA, USA — There’s a new push to make marijuana legal in North Carolina. A bill was filed in the state house looking to legalize the sale and regulation of the drug already legal in 21 states.
Those filing the bill said legalizing marijuana opens the door to a billion-dollar industry, millions of dollars in tax revenue that can be reinvested back in North Carolina to support schools, health care and other local services like transportation.
“People have been smoking cannabis from time immemorial and up until the 1930s, it was essentially legal," Representative Kelly Alexander said. "What we're trying to do now is to restore that legality."
Alexander is one of the sponsors of House Bill 626. It aims to legalize and regulate the sale, possession and use of cannabis in North Carolina.
“This is not the 18th century,” he continued. “We don't need to put a scarlet letter on people for the use of a naturally occurring product that more and more people see as having a medical benefit, and a personal benefit.”
Alexander said keeping cannabis illegal disproportionately impacts people of color who are more likely to be arrested for possession.
Supporters say legalizing marijuana will essentially save the state money and resources it would use to arrest, prosecute and jail people for using a product that is legal in several states.
“It’s time for us to allow citizens who want to indulge in the use of cannabis to be able to do so without stigma and without fear of being arrested," Alexander said.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He agrees with those sentiments.
“It makes no sense to use limited prosecutorial resources to target, prosecute and incarcerate individuals for their possession and use of a substance that's objectively safer than either alcohol or tobacco,” Armentano said.
He added the cannabis industry currently supports about 450,000 full-time jobs.
“In fact, we have twice as many people now currently working full time in the state-licensed cannabis industry than we have dentists in America,” Armentano said.
The industry also generates some big bucks for states where it is legal.
For example, in Colorado, the first state to legalize cannabis, marijuana tax revenue has brought in over $2.4 billion since 2014.
Here is a look at Colorado's marijuana spending by destination:
The money goes to health care, law enforcement and renewing and replacing deteriorating public schools.
“States have now generated an estimated $12 billion in new tax revenue due to taking these markets from being underground markets and taking them above ground and making them transparent, legal regulated marketplaces,” Armentano said.
These are efforts Prime Sunshine CBD founder and CEO Ellen Tacher is in favor of.
“It is not necessarily the marijuana that people are smoking,” Tacher explained. “It’s the cannabinoids and all the parts… the material inside that plant that is helpful for the entire human body.”
Her business has been in Charlotte for nearly 10 years selling various CBD products which are legal in the state.
“What this opens the door to is access for people who have fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, people who suffer from migraines, sleeping problems, anxiety, and depression,” Tacher said. “You can still get all the help you need from our products but the THC from the marijuana plant is extremely helpful.”
Armentano said the legalization of marijuana allows for control and a safer product for consumers.
“Legalization doesn't create consumer demand for cannabis, it doesn't even create the marijuana market," Armentano said. "That demand in that market already exists in North Carolina and in every state in this country. The question is, who do we want to put in control of that market?”