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Lieutenant governor hopeful: Legalize, regulate access to marijuana

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A Democratic candidate for North Carolina lieutenant governor has announced his support for marijuana legalization and controlled access.

Bill Toole, a Charlotte environmental lawyer, says cannabis should be regulated like alcohol and sold through the state’s network of Alcoholic Beverage Control system liquor stores. Toole estimates North Carolina would see $450 million a year in revenue from a cannabis purchase tax.

“Each community should decide for itself whether it will allow sales in ABC stores — just like we do for alcohol,” Toole said in a YouTube video message. Let’s take cannabis out of the hands of criminals and stop our teens from buying. Let’s bring good jobs back to our farming communities.”

The proposal would require 90% of all cannabis sold in North Carolina to be grown in-state.

No one under 21 would be permitted to purchase or use cannabis, Toole said, and under regulations similar to open-container laws, residents of legal age would not be permitted to use cannabis in public places.

Under Toole’s policy pitch, all criminal convictions for possession of up to 1 ½ ounces of marijuana would be automatically expunged.

A news release from Toole’s campaign says cannabis monopolizes the state’s law enforcement resources, citing FBI figures showing that more than 60% of all North Carolina drug possession arrests in 2016 and 2017 were for possession of up to 1 ½ ounces of marijuana.

“My plan is about moving North Carolina into the future,” Toole said. “We need to accept the utilization of cannabis today and make sure we can control the production, access and taxation. When we regulate the process and tax the proceeds, controlled access just makes sense,” said Toole.

Toole suggests using 75% of annual tax revenue to hire school nurses, social workers and psychologists to help teenagers struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. Cities and counties that approve cannabis sales through their ABC stores would receive a revenue share that could be used to combat the opioid crisis and provide substance abuse treatment programs.

While controlled access and sale through ABC stores would allow recreational as well as medicinal use, Toole noted that 80% of North Carolina voters support access to medical marijuana, according to a 2017 Elon University poll.

Doctors say cannabis has medical uses as an anti-nausea drug and for pain management. Its federal classification as a Schedule I drug has limited the amount of peer-reviewed clinical trials conducted.

Toole is one of five declared Democratic candidates for the lieutenant governor post. He’s expected to face state Sen. Terry Van Duyn, former state senator Cal Cunningham, state Rep. Yvonne Holley and Allen Thomas of Hoke County in next year’s primary.

Four Republicans, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, former state lawmaker Scott Stone, Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran and New Bern businessman Buddy Bengel, are also seeking the office.