Rep. Graig Meyer and Senator Jay Chaudhuri have introduced bills to legalize marijuana in North Carolina. It’s about time. Prohibition sucks up money for needed law enforcement, supports drug cartels and organized crime, clogs our court system, and has resulted in prosecutions that disproportionately target minorities. In addition, marijuana has medicinal properties and is far less destructive than alcohol or opioids, both of which are legal and regulated.

The country is ready to stop locking up people for smoking or vaping or eating pot. Polls show a majority of people in North Carolina believe that it should be legalized and an overwhelming majority believe it should be ok for medical use. An Elon University Poll in February showed that 54% of North Carolinians favor outright legalization and a whopping 73% support medical marijuana. Almost two-thirds of Republicans support allowing it for medical use. And support is growing, not shrinking.

North Carolina is lagging the country and missing out on a boon that would free up money from the criminal justice system while filling public coffers through taxation. A majority of states have legalized it for medical use and an increasing number of states allow personal use. 

Legalization has also been tested in the laboratories of democracy. States across the nation have decriminalized it or outright legalized it for medical or recreational use. We have blueprints now for what works and what doesn’t. States have also seen a significant increase in revenue as a result of regulating and taxing pot. North Carolina should tap into this source of money sooner than later.

As we debate legalization, I’m reminded of the lottery. North Carolina was one of the last states to institute a state lottery. Pressure mounted when Virginia and South Carolina both had them and people from North Carolina drove to other states to by lottery tickets, sending potential revenue across state lines. 

Just last week, Virginia legalized marijuana for personal use. In coming years, they will likely have dispensaries for recreational use. When that happens, the traffic on I-85 North will increase significantly and North Carolina dollars will go to subsidize Virginia businesses and government. Like the lottery before, North Carolina will end up legalizing in self-defense. It’s just a matter of time.

The state should go ahead get ahead of the curve instead of stubbornly lagging behind. Study other states. Figure out what will work here and open dispensaries that benefit North Carolinians. We could be attracting money from South Carolina—at least until they are pressured to follow suit. Let’s take the money and run.

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