News & Opinion

Legalize It: In the Weeds

We live in a polarizing time, and I don’t believe weaponizing a topic like cannabis, which can truly benefit so many, is helpful at all. That being said, as we continue to discuss marijuana reform in Charlotte, we will have to discuss uncomfortable topics like institutional racism and political ideologies. My goal is for readers to take the forthcoming information and use it as a tool to hold our city leadership accountable. You know, speak truth to power, all that important stuff.

It’s no secret that Charlotte votes blue, and as I look over a list of of our elected officials, the following are all registered Democrats: our mayor, district attorney, our sheriff and nine of 11 city council members. In the 2016 election, Charlotte voted for now-Governor Roy Cooper almost 2-1 against Republican incumbent and former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCory. As for our representation in Raleigh, we have supported Rep. Becky Carney and Rep. Kelly Alexander for decades. Rep. John Autry and Sen. Jeff Jackson are Charlotte Democrats, too. Charlotte votes as blue as San Francisco or Denver, Colorado.

This being an election year, we are hearing from lots of Democratic presidential hopefuls, some of whom have already been campaigning within our charming Southern city. And what do I hear those Democratic candidates say? Bernie Sanders, for one, has promised to federally legalize marijuana through executive order on his first day in office.

Shortly before she dropped out of the race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled a policy plan that aimed to legalize marijuana, right some of the wrongs of the drug war and promote involvement in the newly growing industry by those communities harmed most by prohibition.

Most Democratic candidates agree that the War on Drugs has disproportionately and drastically affected our black and brown communities, although it can’t be forgotten that former New York City mayor and now-former presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, whom Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles had endorsed for president before he dropped out of the race, oversaw “Stop and Frisk,” one of the most racist and harmful policies to be implemented in the War on Drugs since the Clinton administration’s Three-Strikes laws.

For the most part, all signals from Democrat leaders on the national level are consistent: Marijuana enforcement as it stands is wrong and laws need to change. Left and right, cities all across the US are ending marijuana enforcement, while on the homefront, Charlotte’s current marijuana enforcement policies and implementation remain a form of institutional racism.

U.S. drug policies were devised to be racist and discriminatory. Drug arrest statistics, and particularly those tracking marijuana enforcement, are staggering.

After CMPD officers apprehended and cited national superstar and Charlotte native DaBaby for simple marijuana possession following his concert in late December, people began paying attention. A Charlotte Observer story stated that over a two-year period, 762 African American “suspects” were cited for simple marijuana possession, while only 64 white people were cited in the same period. I promise you, 92% of marijuana users in Charlotte are not black. These stats are not justice, they are racism by design. The mayor, the D.A. and the city council are well aware of these horribly disproportionate statistics, yet they do nothing.

Currently, our city leaders are working toward fixing some of the major symptoms that Charlotte has historically been unable to overcome. Issues like inequity, immobility and affordable housing are all currently being addressed — or at least heavily discussed — by our leaders, and rightfully so. But these issues are just symptoms of the real cancer within Charlotte: institutional racism, the symptoms of which are the above-mentioned issues. They will continue to plague our future unless our leaders move forward and confront issues on inherent bias and systemic racism.

So why aren’t our city leaders addressing the marijuana issue? One obstacle is the fact that North Carolina is a “Dillon Rule” state as opposed to a home rule state. This means our lawmaking directives have to come from Raleigh and our state’s constitution, whereas in a home-rule state, a municipality has the power to legislate matters of local concern.

The last battle between Charlotte and the state over these matters was about the infamous House Bill 2.

For those of you are new here, the fight began when the city passed amendments to its nondiscrimination ordinance protecting the rights of transgender residents and visitors, then were swiftly met with HB2, passed down by state legislators to shut down any chance that Charlotte had of expanding rights for its own citizens.

City leaders put up a fight against HB2, and Charlotte residents along with national leaders in the public and private sector stood behind them, but in the end, their compromise with the state meant the heinous law would be repealed only along with the nondiscrimination ordinance that inspired it.

Our transgender neighbors still don’t enjoy the rights that they would have under the nondiscrimination ordinance amendments, but the fight showed that Charlotte is willing to stand up to the state — they just need to stand a little stronger next time.

The ghastly HB2 repeal deal also barred cities like Charlotte from passing nondiscrimination ordinances, raising the minimum wage or expanding workers’ rights. It did so by prohibiting local governments from enacting or amending ordinances regulating private employment practices or public accommodations, plunging us further into Dillon Rule. Those limitations on our city’s autonomy, however, expire in December of this year. Just something to keep in mind.

In the meantime, now is as good a time as ever to stand against harmful, racist drug policies that target Charlotte’s most vulnerable populations. I strongly encourage all readers of this article — black and white, red and blue — to take the time to call Mayor Vi Lyles, D.A. Spencer Merriweather and your city council representatives to ask them why they are willing to focus and deploy our city’s resources to merely address symptoms of discrimination, when they could be removing a real cancer that is creating the racial inequality issues within our beloved Queen City, and they could do so for no price at all, by ending the criminalization of simple marijuana possession.

Did you know that Queen City Nerve is an alternative print publication with distribution locations all over Charlotte and Mecklenburg County? The Nerve is distributed every other Wednesday and includes feature stories, event and music listings, puzzles and more. Our paper and website are always free, but if you’re feeling kind, you can contribute to our journalism efforts here.

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