NC officials discuss decriminalizing marijuana to reduce court cases; 1 county to begin effort in months

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – A move to change marijuana laws in North Carolina is being met with a pledge in Mecklenburg County to focus on violent crime and not on simple drug offenses.

The pandemic, and racial injustice in America are two subjects that have dominated the national conversation this year, and in a way, both are setting the stage for a shift in some simple drug possession cases that could affect you, or someone you know.

“The number of cases take up a bit of the workload, and given the span of cases, we have to figure out how to our resources most effectively,” Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said.

Merriweather is talking about the number of simple drug offenses that are still in the system, backlogged because of the pandemic, so he is making a change.

“It’s a response to the violence we’ve seen in a pandemic,” he said.

Mecklenburg County has seen a lot of crime this year, and away from simple possession cases, Merriweather says these cases will likely be taken out of court and into recovery agencies.

It’s a move he says more district attorneys are doing and something the state is taking seriously, too, but for a different reason, and in a different way

“A Black person is three times more likely to be arrested and convicted,” State Attorney General Josh Stein said.

Stein, who is part of a racial equality task force set up in the outcry over the death George Floyd, says they are recommending a decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

It wouldn’t be outright legalization, but it would have the force equal to that of a traffic ticket, instead of having a record, or potential jail time.

Both have the effort of creating change for those in legal limbo in Mecklenburg County and the state.

“I think we are at a point where, if we minimize the footprint of the criminal justice system, and move the people that need help to help, it’s value-added for everyone,” Merriweather said.

The changes in the DA’s office in Mecklenburg will be in place by February.

The decriminalization recommendation to the governor is just that so far just that – a recommendation. There is no word yet on whether the governor will act on it.

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