50 States

50 States: North Carolina

By Jon Young

50 States: North Carolina

Medical: CBD-oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: Yes (limited)

What happens when a white cop gets arrested for growing cannabis with a fire hydrant in North Carolina? You might be surprised.

The case of Thomas Daniel Gaskins, a former deputy sheriff, is just one example of racial bias in the justice system, especially concerning cannabis. Gaskins’ small plot of cannabis plants was discovered by landscapers who noticed a hose hooked up to a fire hydrant that led into a wooded area. They followed the hose into the brush and found 11 well-watered plants.

Gaskins was arrested for “planting and growing 11 marijuana plants, with the use of a town fire hydrant, in a wooded area,” according to the police report. The typical punishment for such a crime is a felony conviction with three to eight months in jail. Gaskins was released a mere 24 hours later with a misdemeanor.

While police were concerned with the ex-officer’s illegal cultivation of cannabis, it seemed his wanton use of public water was worse.

“It affects all of the town's payers, the taxpayers, the town's base," said Lt. Patrick Reagan. "Anytime there's excessive water being used out of a fire hydrant or any public works facility, it does throw up a red flag."

"While this may have just been a bad mistake, a lack of judgment on this person's part,” Reagan continued in a vacillating ramble to NBC Charlotte. “We certainly don't condemn them or condone their actions in any way, either.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), African-Americans make up 22 percent of the population in North Carolina yet account for 50 percent of the arrests and citations issued in the state even, though usage rates are similar. Moreover, cases like Gaskins that hand out disproportionate sentences are all too common.  

In 1977, North Carolina significantly reduced the penalties for first-time drug offenses, allowing those caught with less than ahalf ounce of cannabis to get off with a $200 max fine and no jail time. Though, those caught in possession still face a misdemeanor, not a civil infraction, meaning they will have a criminal record and decreased chances of landing a decent job. Meanwhile, legislators are attempting to pass a medical marijuana (MMJ) bill that would expand the limited cannabidiol (CBD) oil bill that was passed in 2014. Currently, only those who suffer from certain forms of epilepsy can obtain the oil.

Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr. is a co-sponsor of the current bill in addition to every failed MMJ bill filed since 2008, and some doubt if the new bill has a chance to pass this time, especially in the shortened legislative session of 2016.

“The reason why I filed the bill in the short session was to keep the issue alive and to keep it in front of members,” Alexander said, adding that each time he files the bill he gains more support.

House Bill 983 would add an $8 per ounce tax on sales of cannabis, meaning the Tar Heel State could see a windfall in tax money, joining other states that are seeing huge profits from the legalization of cannabis.

While it may be another year or more before the bill, or one like it, passes, North Carolina is edging closer to becoming the next state to legalize MMJ, putting the country at a tipping point toward the end of prohibition.  

Photo credit: Unsplash.

50 States: South Dakota

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50 States: North Dakota

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