RALEIGH – A bill introduced by State Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr. (D-Mecklenburg) to downgrade the penalty for simple possession of marijuana in North Carolina passed first reading Wednesday and was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
House Bill 637 is being co-sponsored by Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-Brunswick, New Hanover), Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), Rep. Rodney Moore (D- Mecklenburg), and Rep. Bobbie Richardson (D-Franklin).
HB 637 would replace criminal penalties for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana with a civil infraction similar to a traffic ticket.
Simple marijuana possession is currently classified as a Class 3 criminal misdemeanor and is punishable by a suspended sentence and a $200 fine.
Under the proposed bill, anyone convicted of simple marijuana possession prior to December 1, 2013 who had not been convicted of any other felony or misdemeanor (other than a traffic violaton) would be eligible to file a petition to have the marijuana offense expunged from their criminal record.
A majority (56%) of North Carolina voters believe the penalty for marijuana possession should entail only a fine, according to a Public Policy Polling survey of 611 voters released in March.
“We applaud Rep. Alexander and his House colleagues for championing a more sensible marijuana policy for the Tar Heel State,” said Robert Capecchi, Deputy Director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Police and prosecutors’ time and resources would be better spent focusing on violent and otherwise serious crimes instead of enforcing criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.”