As North Carolina is in the midst of a boom in hemp and CBD oil business, lawmakers are floating the idea of taking the marijuana movement a step further.
"I think a lot of people feel like it's no more dangerous than alcohol and possibly less dangerous than alcohol,” said Representative Pricey Harrison, of North Carolina’s District 61.
Harrison is one the primary sponsors of House Bill 766, which looks to decriminalize possession of four ounces or less of marijuana, while allowing for the expunction of possession of marijuana offenses involving four ounces or less.
Senator Paul Lowe, of North Carolina’s 32nd District, introduced a similar bill, Senate Bill 58, which would make it legal to possess four ounces or less or marijuana for personal use, while also allowing for expunction of records related to “certain convictions for possession” of marijuana.
"There are so many people whose lives have been ruined with criminal records and we've just got to figure out a way to make them more productive citizens to society,” Harrison said.
A fifth of the United States have legalized marijuana and most states have approved medical marijuana programs. North Carolina has done neither.
"We haven't gotten there on medical either, we just want to get the idea out there and people talking about it,” Harrison said.
While Harrison cites the billions of dollars in revenue the marijuana industry has created in certain states, she admits many North Carolina lawmakers have resisted legalization.
"The Christian conservative lobby is not fond of it,” she said.
Forsyth County District Attorney and North Carolina Attorney General hopeful Jim O’Neill is among those opposing the bills.
"There's a lot of things that we need to stop and think about before we all jump on the bandwagon and make it legal,” he said.
O’Neill refuted claims that marijuana is not a gateway drug and isn’t addictive.
“Marijuana trains the brain, and it trains it to be dependent, it trains it to crave it and that's the definition of addiction,” he said. "Others will come back at me and say, 'well, it's all natural. It grows in the ground.' Well, so does arsenic."
O’Neill also raised concerns over the impact marijuana has on developing bodies.
"This is bad for our kids, and ultimately, that's my main concern,” he said.
Yet, O’Neill says if THC was removed from the equation, he could see some medical benefits.
"If that was eliminated from the marijuana, then you might be on to something,” he said.
Harrison says medical marijuana needs to come before full legalization. She is a primary sponsor of House Bill 401, which aims at enacting the “North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act.”
House Bill 401, House Bill 766 and Senate Bill 58 all passed their first readings and are currently stuck in committees.