Marijuana Harvesting

Source: (Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images) / (Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images)

The Virginia General Assembly gave final approval to a bill to legalize possession of marijuana beginning July 1, becoming the first southern state to green-light recreational use of cannabis.

The “State for Lovers” is the 17th state overall, plus Washington DC, to give weed a go and follows New York as the last state to legalize. Although, recreational sales of marijuana still wouldn’t be legal in Virginia until 2024.

But will the commonwealth’s neighbor to the south be the next state to “go green”? Many analysts believe that’s a  possibility for North Carolina, but truly unlikely.

A handful of bills to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use were filed in North Carolina’s General Assembly this week. Senate Bill 711 would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for debilitating conditions such as cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Unlike previous attempts to legalize weed for medicinal use, this year’s version has an outstanding sponsor in Republican Senator Bill Rabor. The chairman of the Senate Rules committee is the one who decides which bills move forward in the North Carolina Senate and which ones don’t.

The bill says it won’t change civil or criminal laws on marijuana already on the books, just the rules on medical use. It would set up a licensing structure for farmers to grow, suppliers to distribute and retailers sell to patients with registration cards being issued by the state.

“A registry identification cardholder shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner for the possession or purchase of cannabis for medical use by the qualified patient if the quantity of usable cannabis possessed or purchased does not exceed an adequate supply, as determined by the qualified patient’s physician,” the bill states.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, wasn’t high on supporting similar legislation that is currently pending in the House, saying he sees more support for decriminalization of the drug rather than legalization.

“I really don’t see the support for legalizing the use, recreational or medicinal, quite frankly, but we’ll have to see,” Berger told WRAL. “I do think public sentiment on that has been changing over the past few years.”

He went on to say, “It’s not a bill that I would introduce.”

A task force convened by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper gave recommendations in November that the state should decriminalize marijuana possession and they also initiated a study on whether to legalize cannabis sales. One of those assigned to the Governor’s panel was N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, who believes fixing the issue is a top priority for the state.

“You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana,” said Stein in November. “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced.”

He added that it’s “time for North Carolina to start having real conversations about a safe, measured, public health approach to potentially legalizing marijuana.”