Marijuana legalization is a tough row to hoe, but we in the mountains deserve the opportunity to voice our opinions before governmental big-wigs plow through any decisions on the topic.

Marijuana laws across the nation are rapidly changing, and following the Nov. 3 election, this includes legal revisions in places such as North Carolina’s immediate neighbors.

Perhaps this is why the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equality in Criminal Justice, convened by Gov. Roy Cooper and co-chaired by Justice Anita Earls and Attorney General Josh Stein, released its recommendations this week to not only decriminalize marijuana possession in small amounts, but further study the potential legalization of marijuana possession, cultivation and sale.

This is concerning on many fronts, and not least that the argument from the side of the task force is couched in racial equality and not the medical effects of illegal drug use: Although “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates... Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced,” the task force opines. Indeed, the task force tells us, “it is time for North Carolina to start having real conversations about a safe, measured, public health approach to potentially legalizing marijuana.”

These are serious and societal-changing recommendations, and as such they deserve a thorough conversation.

That is, whether or not task forces’ stats will stand up to scrutiny, whether or not it is time for North Carolina to start having “real conversations,” and whether or not we at the Watauga Democrat stand on one side or the other of fully legalizing marijuana in North Carolina is not the point. At least not today.

At this time, we’re just hoping the mountains of Western North Carolina will have a seat at the table before final recommendations are acted upon.

The current list of names on Cooper’s task force are reputable and credible but — save for outliers such as the Chair of the Transylvania County Commission Mike Hawkins — are by and large from the central and eastern regions of our state.

Given the very real concerns — and stats — of illegal drug use in the mountains, it is imperative that Western North Carolina be fully involved in discussions about the legalization of marijuana.

Hopefully this will happen sooner rather than later — before any recommendations are acted upon by a governorship that summoned the group making those recommendations — and there is a chance of this. Sort of.

In addition to task force guidance that would decriminalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, and suggest that prosecutors “immediately reprioritize marijuana-related prosecution in non-ABC permitted locations,” the task force “recommends that North Carolina convene a Task Force of stakeholders, free from conflict of interest, to study the pros and cons and options for legalization of possession, cultivation and/or sale, including government or not for profit monopoly options.”

If you think that sounds like typical confusing governmental doublespeak, you’re not alone. A task force convening a task force to study a topic that is only under recommendation sounds at best like putting the cart before the horse, and at worst, a done deal.

Yet it also sounds like there may be a whisper of chance for discussion on a topic that will touch every North Carolinian — including those in the mountains.

How the voices of thousands of North Carolinians will get there from here is not clear, and worse, is being done on an expedited timetable. Although the NCTFREICJ — government agencies do love their acronyms — task force has extended its deadline to release full recommendations to Cooper, that extension will elapse on Dec. 15.

Before then, Watauga, Ashe, Avery and our friends and neighbors to the west and south need to be part of the conversation.

To view the most recent public meeting, visit the North Carolina Department of Justice’s YouTube channel, Information on previous recommendations and other Task Force action is available at

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(4) comments


One last thing from this letter: 'Although “White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates... Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced,” the task force opines.'

This is not "opining" on the part of the task force. From the Fayetteville Observer regarding Buncombe county alone: "Sentencing data shows people of color accounted for 62% of weed possession charges of 1.5 ounces or less last year, despite only making up around 37% of the population."

National statistics on marijuana usage by race and arrest rates by race are available in a full report from the ACLU here:

There is no reason to smugly dismiss these statistics or believe that they will not stand up to scrutiny. According to PBS, between 1850 and 1937, psychoactive cannabis was widely available medicinally in the US, and was regularly prescribed by physicians. It was only after growing resentment of Mexican immigrants and the rise in popularity of Black Jazz musicians that cannabis was relabeled "marihuana" and demonized:

The initial criminalization of the drug was obviously racially motivated, so yes, it does in fact make sense for a task force concerned with racial injustice to focus on it. Administrations have been pushing for legalization since Jimmy Carter. It is past time to make it happen.


Fun title though.


What year is this? 80% of North Carolinians are in favor of medical marijuana, including 73% of registered Republicans. You can already literally go to the gas station and buy CBD flower and tinctures. The line is so thin it almost does not exist. I have a sneaking suspicion that the editor’s only reason to want the High Country to weigh in on the issue is that they are under the impression that rural conservative strongholds could hold back the entire state on this issue. You don’t actually want to have the conversation – just shut it down. The illegal drugs in these mountains that are killing and hurting us so deeply are methamphetamines and opioids – not a little green plant that grows in the ground. People have been growing and using marijuana around here for generations. I have a buddy whose great-grandfather grew it on the land that his family still owns near the Tennessee border. In the 70’s, my dad grew it with his ex-wife. Is anyone still seriously afraid of pot? Really? I honestly cannot think of a single acquaintance of mine who is staunchly opposed to legalization. And while I don’t believe that any drug is totally harmless, study after study suggests that marijuana is one of the safest recreational intoxicants. I went to Watauga High School, and can personally attest to the normalization and high levels of marijuana use amongst the student body in the late 90’s. You see, drug dealers don’t care how old their buyers are; as teenagers we found it much easier to buy weed than to buy beer. I also attended Appalachian State University, which has long been infamous for its epic pot smoking culture. It was definitely still in full force in the early 2000’s. Does the editor really not know that they are living in a stoner haven? This stuff has been around forever, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Friends of mine who work in NC law enforcement say that weed is basically being decriminalized in practice (rather than policy) already. Anything less than an ounce isn’t worth their time; if it’s merely possession, a lot of officers simply look the other way. Many of them smoke it too. Helicopter flyovers searching for weed fields have been defunded and abandoned in the High Country. Nobody cares anymore. Shouldn’t the laws in our state be consistent with the overwhelming public opinion? We also don’t have to pretend like there is no data available on the effects of legalization and decriminalization. Half the country has already done it. Look around you. What on earth are you so afraid of? If the editor truly fears the criminal activity that surrounds the illicit drug trade, the solution is simple: legalize it. Regulate it. Grow it, sell it, and tax it. This must be the most backwards, draconian, outmoded, out-of-touch, ill-informed editorial I have ever seen come out of this paper. Not to mention the thinly veiled distrust of science and statistics, and backhanded swipes at functioning government, drug users, and Black folks. Almost unbelievably bad.


Whoa, slow down there Branch. You're gonna hurt the heads of the poor folks that wrote this piece of garbage with all of those facts, and nuanced points.

I swear this publication gets worse (and dumber) with each passing day. *Almost* unbelievably bad is right...

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