RALEIGH, N.C. (Jun. 11, 2018) – A bill filed in the North Carolina Senate would decriminalize marijuana possession and expunge the records of certain marijuana offenders. Passage into law would take a step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect in the state.
Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) introduced Senate Bill 791 (S791) with three co-sponsors on May 31. The legislation would decriminalize marijuana possession for individuals possessing up to four ounces. Marijuana possession would only become a felony if an individual was caught possessing more than 16 ounces of cannabis under the proposed law.
The legislation would also expunge the criminal records of certain marijuana offenders. S791 reads as follows:
A person who was convicted… for possession of marijuana, and the quantity of marijuana possessed was four ounces (avoirdupois) or less, may file a petition in the court of the county where the person was convicted for expunction of the offense from the person’s criminal record and any other official record containing an entry relating to the person’s apprehension, charge, trial, or conviction. The court, after notice to the district attorney, shall hold a hearing on the petition and, upon finding that the violation… involved possession of marijuana in an amount of four ounces (avoirdupois) or less, the court shall order the expunction…
The court shall also order that the conviction ordered expunged under this section be expunged from the records of the court and direct all law enforcement agencies bearing record of the same to expunge their records of the conviction. The clerk shall notify State and local agencies of the court’s order.
“This is heading in the right direction,” Sen. Lowe said.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as S791 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of cannabis. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Decriminalization of marijuana in North Carolina would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, North Carolina essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Passage of S791 would ignore federal prohibition and start the process of nullifying it in practice in the state. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act.
With 30 states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
S791 was referred to the Senate Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.