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North Carolina is set to consider the potential legalization of medical marijuana use. On Wednesday, a committee in the North Carolina House of Representatives gave its first hearing to a bill that decriminalizes medical use of the substance.
If passed, legalization of medical marijuana would be a good start, but more must be done. Like Colorado and Washington, North Carolina should move to fully decriminalize marijuana and allow for legal use and sale of the substance.
The state should not be in the business of penalizing those otherwise law-abiding citizens who do use marijuana recreationally just like many use tobacco and alcohol. And, just as there are those who refrain from smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol, those who are opposed to the use of marijuana can continue to take solace in their personal decision to abstain. Such is the nature of the free society in which we live.
Legalizing marijuana, or, at the very least, decriminalizing it, will begin to address several serious problems plaguing both domestic and international governments.
First, legalization would put an end to a virtually unchecked black market that takes advantage of and harms users, growers, sellers and innocent bystanders. Organized criminal activity around the growth, distribution and sale of marijuana would be nearly immediately halted. The federal government, state governments and other nations like Mexico could then begin to refocus their “War on Drugs” to substances that truly need better scrutiny, drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and others.
Second, legalization will immediately begin to clear overburdened criminal justice systems. Courts clogged up with the cases of people using a substance no more harmful or addicting as alcohol or tobacco can begin to use their time and resources addressing more serious crimes. Citizens, who are otherwise breaking no other laws, who find themselves facing criminal prosecution or even jail time for marijuana use will be cleared out of the system and reduce already overpopulated jails and prisons.
Third, legalization, if coupled with regulation and taxation, provides local and state governments with much-needed funding for critical needs like education. In 2012, North Carolina’s local Alcohol Beverage Control boards distributed more than $300 million dollars to the state’s general fund and local governments. The revenue also provided funding for local law enforcement agencies, alcohol education, rehabilitation services and other health resources. Imagine if similar funding from the sale of marijuana could be added to the state’s bottom line.
“Compassion dictates that State law should make a distinction between the medical and nonmedical use of cannabis,” the bill reads.
More than compassion, common sense dictates that the smartest move is to fully legalize marijuana use. The costs – fiscal, practical and moral – of maintaining prohibition are too high.
— A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., progressive and LGBT-rights activist and journalist Matt Comer has lived in Charlotte since 2007 where he works as editor of QNotes, the Charlotte-based LGBT community newspaper of North Carolina.