RALEIGH, NC — It was August’s Medical Cannabis Town Hall in Charlotte that convinced Rep. Kelly Alexander to start the North Carolina General Assembly’s cannabis caucus. The group of legislators was supposed to meet Monday, but no one showed, according to a report by Carolina Cannabis News.
The publication reports that Alexander isn’t bothered by the no-shows at all. “There is a lot happening via email,” he explained to Carolina Cannabis News, adding that he set the meeting schedule several weeks ago and since then several other meetings were scheduled that conflicted with the caucus meeting.
“I’ve been on the phone with several members today,” said Alexander, who also noted that Democrats in the General Assembly widely support cannabis reform. He decided not to cancel the meeting because, he said, of worries that some legislators might not receive the message.
Rep. John Autry (D-Dist. 100, Mecklenburg) said on Sunday that he hoped to attend but didn’t think he would be able to do so. He co-sponsored Alexander’s last cannabis bill, HB 994, titled simply “Revise Marijuana Laws.”
“The town hall conducted in Charlotte by Rep. Alexander provided me with an opportunity to network with advocates and reaffirm my support for medical marijuana,” wrote Autry via email.
Asked why he supports cannabis reform, Autry responded, “It’s about the health and well-being of North Carolinians.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Dist. 57, Guilford) also co-sponsored HB 994. She, too, wanted to attend but had other obligations. “I hope to sponsor legislation on medical cannabis next year with Alexander. I have been working on this for 14 years,” she wrote in an email.
Carolina Cannabis News twice asked the N.C. GOP to comment on the formation of the caucus. No one responded.
What is a caucus?
The Associated Press Stylebook, used by journalists worldwide as a writing guide, defines a caucus as “a private meeting of leaders or a committee of a political party or faction to decide on policy … “
Alexander told Carolina Cannabis News the caucus will be modeled on the Cannabis Caucus in the U.S. Congress that was formed in 2017 by members of Congress representing legal states.
A caucus meeting does not meet the standards of a public meeting under North Carolina law since they are considered strategy meetings, so media could have been excluded. When asked if Carolina Cannabis News could sit in on the meeting, however, Alexander said, “This is the people’s house, of course you can.”
The state of cannabis reform in North Carolina
There were five cannabis reform bills filed in the N.C. General Assembly (NCGA) during the 2018 short session. None of them made it to the House or Senate floor for a debate. That is the usual fate of cannabis bills in the NCGA — they die in committee, where they usually don’t even receive hearings.
Sen. Paul A. Lowe, Jr. (D-Dist. 32, Forsyth), a pastor and native of Seattle, stopped by Alexander’s office hoping to catch the end of the caucus meeting. He says he is likely to follow Alexander’s lead on cannabis reform and that he favors legalizing medical cannabis for reasons that are rooted in compassion for those who are ill.
During the 2018 short session, Lowe filed a companion bill to Alexander’s HB 994 – SB 791 –in the Senate. It, too, got stuck in committee and received no hearing.
The session that convenes this week is an extension of the year’s third special session and is expected to focus on voter I.D. laws. Don’t expect any new cannabis legislation this year. But next year expect four or more bills to be filed between the state House of Representatives and the Senate.
Special sessions, which cost taxpayers an estimated $42,000 per day, used to be rare and reserved for urgent issues, but since 2016 – when there were five – they have become commonplace. In this week’s case, the most recent special session wasn’t adjourned and Nov. 27 was established as the date when the NCGA would convene to continue the work of that session.
So far in the third special session of 2018, 15 bills related to Hurricane Florence relief have been voted on, eight in the House of Representative and seven in the Senate.
2019 Long Session Preview
Alexander says to expect the first of his bills – he’s working on several, one to modernize expungement law and another focused on decriminalization – to be filed in late January or early February. He said he’s also working on legislation that would allow for a local option similar to the state’s ABC laws.
It’s also likely that bills will be filed to help those participating in the N.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program with their banking woes.
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