Ending Marijuana Enforcement, the Smart Path

Federally, marijuana legalization will happen by 2025. Mark it down. Still yet, it may happen sooner, depending on how the politics play out. 

Why, you ask? Money.  According to New Frontier Data, the U.S. marijuana industry as a whole does $50 billion in annual sales consistently, and that number is growing. Legal state markets alone will exceed $17 billion in sales in 2020. 

But beyond the gross total sales numbers for marijuana is the amount of money invested. There are companies with billions of dollars invested into the marijuana sector, publicly traded companies have money invested, pension funds have money invested, and all that money was invested by some very smart people with one belief: Marijuana becomes fully legalized by 2025.  

Our government, as clueless as it may seem, will not fail their friends in Wall Street and big industry -- all those Boomers with retirement in their vision -- by not making this move. Depending on politics, legalization could happen sooner. It's difficult for me to see a scenario in which Democrats take the 2020 presidency and congressional majorities, then don’t legalize by late 2022. 

At the state level, medical marijuana could be here sooner than we think. A recent Elon University poll showed North Carolinians support medical marijuana enactment by 82% -- no small stat in an election year. Perhaps more importantly, look at two of our neighboring states -- Georgia and Virginia, both of whom have enacted medical marijuana programs. Even South Carolina is running a test facility in partnership with cannabis testing facilitator ProVerde Laboratories, according to Columbia Business Report.  

Marijuana is now a regional opportunity. It has grown bigger than just one state deciding to move forward. Look at Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In October, all four governors took part in the Regional Cannabis and Vaping Summit, to discuss how to legalize adult-use together. Leaders from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Colorado attended, as well. These officials realize that legalization does not happen in a vacuum, as all surrounding states will be affected. 

Not only is Virginia starting a robust and industrial medical marijuana program with a giant production facility being built within 30 miles of the N.C. border, but Governor Ralph Northam, M.D., just announced his primary legislative task in 2020 is to decriminalize cannabis and expunge marijuana arrests records in the state. Yes, the Governor of Virginia just announced that the War-on-Drugs was severely biased in its effects and that criminal justice reform regarding marijuana and the people it negatively impacted must be his top priority. 

Our leaders of Charlotte need to start working towards marijuana legalization progressively.  As I write this article, Charlotte’s City Council is holding its annual retreat. Members are discussing topics like public transportation, home prices, MLS soccer and a high murder rate. 

What I encourage our city’s leadership to discuss and enact is ending the enforcement of marijuana simple possession in Charlotte in 2020. 

End of simple possession enforcement -- along with record expungement -- will go a long way to help heal some of our past mistakes and open up more opportunities for mobility. Many people have trouble getting a good job, or a loan, or even a lease due to an arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuana, an issue that disparately affects the black community in Charlotte. 

Our criminal justice system should not adversely affect someone’s livelihood as a punitive measure for possessing a plant, not to mention that enforcing these antiquated laws takes resources from a police department that already claims to be 200 officers short, but these are all issues for a future column. 

End of enforcement signals to Raleigh and the rest of the U.S. that Charlotte is progressive about marijuana. The marijuana industry is and will continue to boom, but it will only bring prosperity to cities and counties that welcome the progress.  

Our city leaders ask us to think progressively and to support public transportation, greenway space and the arts.  These are all good things, but they do come with a price tag. 

 A progressive city could pay for our future needs and create thousands of jobs -- not to mention funding the arts, cough, cough -- if they would be open to cooperating with marijuana’s growth and investment. 

Charlotte’s leadership, the mayor, Charlotte City Council need to begin 2020 by ending the enforcement of marijuana simple possession.  

Ending enforcement and implementing expungement will help so many Charlotteans with criminal records, while also helping CMPD function more effectively in accommodating a modern, fast-growing city. End of enforcement will mean our city is open to thinking about alternative ways to create jobs and opportunity and equity for all of Charlotte. Other cities like Atlanta; New York; and Austin,Texas, are ending marijuana enforcement. Charlotte should too. 

Marijuana will be legal soon. Let's be progressive. Let's plan for it.

*A version of this article appeared in the QC Nerve, a locally-owned Charlotte publication.

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