The future of marijuana legalization
Here’s what you need to know about the future of marijuana legalization in the United States, from its racist beginnings to today.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
For years, Lisa Z. suffered from anxiety, aches, pain, nausea, body shakes and general inflammation. She has scoliosis, and a rare condition where she’s missing an organ. Though she was in pain, she said the traditional medical sector didn’t have any relief to offer her.
“I have a weird enough condition where they just don’t have anything (to treat it). You can use Pepto-Bismol for the nausea, you can get anxiety meds, but I’m just not a big fan of using that kind of chemical Band-Aid,” she said.
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When she was in college, she first started smoking marijuana and said she finally found some respite (the Citizen Times agreed not use Lisa’s last name). Over time, she transitioned from weed into CBD, and now she works at Apotheca, a CBD and hemp shop, which just opened a new location in downtown Asheville.
Apotheca, along with the dozens more CBD and hemp shops in the region, may soon shift their business to the real deal if a medical marijuana bill in the North Carolina senate makes its way to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, and he signs it.
Introduced to the State Senate in April, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act would legalize medical marijuana for those suffering from a “debilitating medical condition,” a term that covers a wide range of illnesses, from ALS and glaucoma to other diseases “of the same kind or class.”
Though many marijuana bills have come and gone in the N.C. General Assembly before this one, the N.C. Compassionate Care Act seems to have a better chance of garnering votes given its sponsor: Sen. Bill Rabon (District 8), a powerful Republican from the eastern part of the state.
The bill so far has found bipartisan support, though it has been sitting in the Committee for Rules and Operations for the last two months. Two Republican senators from Western North Carolina, Sen. Ralph Hise (District 47) and Sen. Chuck Edwards (District 48), sit on the committee.
Neither senator was available to speak with the Citizen Times before publication. Neither has spoken publicly on the bill.
In the past, both have supported marijuana-adjacent bills. Sen. Hise supported an April 2019 bill that would have expanded the use of medicinal CBD oil, and Sen. Edwards co-sponsored the state’s farm bill that expanded farmers ability to grow hemp.
“The medicinal side of all this is incredible. Right?” said Lee VanTine, owner of Apotheca and 13 other CBD and smoke shops.
“The people that walk in here day after day after day and talk about how they’re not taking this pharmaceutical drug anymore, they’re not taking that pharmaceutical drug anymore and now they sleep well.”
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Evan Boswell, an employee at SunFroot Hemp and CBD Dispensary, said the same.
Boswell said a mix of people come into SunFroot, those suffering from conditions like PTSD and inflammation, and people who just want to “relax.”
“The whole objective (with medical marijuana) would be really helping people that did have issues try to move away from pharmaceuticals,” he said, “taking something holistic, something herbal and organic.”
VanTine said if the bill becomes a law he would “absolutely” begin selling medical marijuana. Boswell said SunFroot would too.
VanTine worries that zoning requirements may make it so dispensaries would be sequestered in industrial zones, rather than the central locations where most of his CBD and hemp dispensaries are located.
If that is the case, he’d keep the CBD and hemp shops as they are and try to open an actual marijuana dispensary wherever the law allowed.
In addition to the medical benefit for North Carolina residents, he said the economic impact would also be huge.
“We’re getting a taste of it now. Right? I mean, with Delta-8 we’re busy,” VanTine said.
Delta-8 is the active ingredient that’s extracted from cannabis (meaning either hemp or marijuana) and causes users to feel a similar effect to the one they do from taking Delta-9 THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, according to the cannabis information company Leafly.
“All the Delta-8 stuff is comparable to what there are in rec states. We have Delta-8 infused flour,” VanTine said, referring to states in which recreational marijuana is legal.
Scientifically, hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp contains less THC than marijuana, so they’re regulated differently.
In North Carolina, the only people who can use marijuana legally are patients suffering from severe epilepsy who’ve been recommended for treatment by their neurologist, but the strain must contain less than 1% THC.
Beyond that, it’s totally illegal in the state.
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People who are caught with half an ounce can be charged with a misdemeanor and required to pay a $200 fine. Between half an ounce and 1.5 ounces, the penalty rises to 45 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Possessing any amount of weed between 1.5 ounces and 10 pounds can land someone in jail for up to eight months.
Although the Delta-8 component has a similar effect to Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 won’t land users in jail or with a fine because it is derived from hemp, which became legal at the federal level through the 2018 farm bill.
The legalization of hemp created the conditions for CBD and hemp shops to sell Delta-8 infused products, which are big money makers.
“I am hiring people left and right. There’s a worker shortage, right?” VanTine said, “Like a lot of other companies we’re having trouble finding people, but guess what? I’m able to pay them more money now.”
He said starting salaries at Apotheca are $12/hour, with commission bonuses that usually tack on an extra $2-$6 an hour for each employee’s salary.
A January 2021 study by Elon University found that 64% of North Carolina residents surveyed believe legalizing marijuana could improve the state’s economy.
That same study also found wide support for legalization: 73% of the people supported legalizing medical marijuana, and 54% supported recreational legalization.
According to the poll, 64% of Republicans supported medical marijuana legalization.
Boswell said he thinks the stigma against marijuana has decreased. People no longer think of marijuana as “some hippie dippie thing,” he said.
The Elon survey supports that belief: 63% of people surveyed said it is not “morally wrong” to smoke weed.
Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven is the cops and courts reporter at the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @plz_CLARify.