Taking a cue from President Joe Biden, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday urged state lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana.
“Conviction of simple possession can mar people’s records for life and maybe even prevent them from getting a job,” Cooper, a Democrat, said during a task force meeting on racial equity and criminal justice, as quoted by the Associated Press.
Cooper noted that the state General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, failed to act on the task force’s recommendations in the previous session, but he said he “believe[s] they should.”
“North Carolina should take steps to end this stigma,” the governor said.
According to the Associated Press, the task force that Cooper addressed on Friday was established “by Cooper in June 2020 after George Floyd’s murder,” and it consists of a “24-member panel of law enforcement officers, attorneys, civil rights advocates and state officials.”
The AP reported that the task force “recommended in a 2020 report that state lawmakers replace the misdemeanor charge for possessing up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana with a civil offense on par with a traffic infraction.”
Along with Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, also a Democrat, urged lawmakers in the state to move forward with cannabis reform.
Their call came a day after Biden said that he will issue pardons to individuals with federal convictions of simple marijuana possession.
In his announcement on Thursday, the president called on “all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.”
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Biden said in a statement.
Crucially, Biden’s announcement was also framed as a first step toward decriminalizing cannabis under federal law, with the president saying he has asked “the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances. This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” Biden said.
The president added: “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
North Carolina is one of the few remaining states where neither medical nor recreational cannabis use is legal.
Lawmakers in the state considered a bill earlier this year that would have legalized medical cannabis treatment, with the bill easily earning approval in the state Senate.
But the legislation stalled in the state House of Representatives.
Had it passed, it would have created one of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws in the United States.
Despite the lack of action by elected officials, there is broad support among North Carolina voters for both medical and recreational cannabis.
A poll in April found that 72% of voters in the Tar Heel State support legalizing medical cannabis, while 57% said they also support making recreational pot use legal.