Here we go: Marijuana is coming to North Carolina

North Carolina medical marijuana just got real.

Medical marijuana legalization is the law in Georgia, and is advancing in South Carolina and Alabama.  Recreational marijuana legalization is the law in Virginia.  Here in North Carolina, nothing was happening.  Only Democrats supported even medical marijuana.

But that changed overnight as two Republican State Senators came out in support of medical marijuana.  So far as I know, they are the first GOP legislators to introduce a medical marijuana bill.

Here’s a first look.

 The new GOP-backed bill, S.B. 711, doesn’t have the safest way to sell at retail, government monopoly stores, “the same way we do for liquor,” a plan advocated by Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Bill Toole in 2020.

But so far, apparently, the fix is not in.  Licensing decisions will be made by a nine-member Medical Cannabis Production Commission, with five members appointed by the Governor and two each (effectively) by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.  

There seem to be no requirements for licensing that aim to serve targeted, identified interests – a problem in other states.  Still, fees are high: “For first-year licensees,” there’s “a nonrefundable license fee in the amount of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).”  That keeps poor folks out of the game, and social equity licensing doesn’t show up.  Expect a lot of discussion, though targeting profits to deserving folks or poor folks has been hard to actually do.

But out-of-state interests don’t get to participate, if attribution rules work.  And maybe municipalities could get retail licenses, as in Washington State.

There’s an 18 percent ad valorem retail tax.  That raises two issues, base, and rate.  First, base:  Ad valorem (price-based taxation) is a weak tax base, for reasons explained repeatedly at www.newrevenue.org, but an easy one to establish.  Second, 18 percent is a rate seen in the early days of recreational cannabis – in jurisdictions that don’t tax recreational much.  So that rate will be controversial for “medicine.”

However this plays out, GOP support for medical marijuana is a crack in the dam of prohibition.  Democrats couldn’t make progress alone. Marijuana prohibition in North Carolina is going to collapse before too long. More to come.

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