Editorial: Cannabis should be legalized for medical use

Editorial: Cannabis should be legalized for medical use
February 22
05:00 2018

At a recent meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council, Tim Lounsbury, a Winston-Salem resident and deputy director of NC NORML asked local leaders to sign on to a resolution supporting the legalization of medical cannabis. Cannabis is currently legal in 29 states and in Washington, D.C. After much consideration, I have concluded that if we want to increase the state and local tax bases, address the escalating opioid crisis, and promote bi-partisan criminal justice reform, North Carolina should consider medical cannabis.

The potential financial gains for state and local governments through increased retail sales, payroll and business taxes are staggering. Cannabis is projected to infuse over $130 billion into US tax coffers by 2025. Colorado, for example, raked in over $1.5 billion dollars in 2017 and collected just under $250 million in taxes and fees.  As legislators in the NC General Assembly continue to stall on approving a bill that would allow for the use of medical cannabis, taxpayers will continue to miss out on the surplus revenues that would create jobs, increase teacher salaries, and fund desperately needed infrastructure projects.

A 2017 report from lists Wilmington, NC at the top of a 25-city list with more than 11.6 percent of the population experiencing opioid abuse. The list also includes three other North Carolina cities with high opioid abuse rates. If we’re going to be serious about addressing the opioid crisis in North Carolina, we should concede that doctors prescribe medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of opioid withdrawals. Studies reveal that states that allow medical cannabis tend to show a decline in the overall use of opioids.

The need for justice reform is currently the only topic that all parties seem to be able to agree on. North Carolina residents caught with any amount of cannabis can be arrested, taken to jail, fined, and given a permanent criminal record. Despite the fact that anyone can be arrested for the possession of cannabis, the Charlotte Observer reported that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers arrested Black Americans at three times the rate of White Americans in cases in which the sole charge was simple possession of cannabis. Other cities and states have shown disparities rising to more than 8 to 1.

If the legislature fails to use medical cannabis as a method of justice reform, local governments must step in. Winston-Salem does not have the authority to override the legislature and legalize medical cannabis, however, this shouldn’t prevent reform on the local level. City and police officials should partner with patrol officers to create a policy of issuing court citations for offenses involving simple cannabis possession instead of making arrests. Jail should only be reserved for violent offenders. The time of our patrol officers is better spent in the communities in which they serve. North Carolina cannot continue to stall on the approval medical cannabis. Justice reform, the state of the economy, and the effects of the escalating opioid crisis all weigh in the balance.

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James Taylor

James Taylor

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