Help North Carolina Welcome Mary Jane with Open Arms

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readMar 14, 2024

Jaden Snyder (PPS ‘24)

Jaden Snyder (PPS ‘24)

Mary Jane has come to play in North Carolina (NC), but she can’t play with just anyone. Mary Jane is the personification of marijuana, or cannabis, and current marijuana-focused policy in NC restricts its use to a limited subset of the population. Advocates for marijuana legalization must capitalize on recent political movements to push for the recreational legalization of marijuana so that all legal adults may reap its health, social, and economic benefits.

Cannabis refers to the dried marijuana plants which consist of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is not federally legal; however, it is legal medically and recreationally in 21 states including Nevada. It is legal in 38 states solely for medical purposes. Of those 38 states the newest is NC, which passed Senate Bill 3, the “N.C Compassionate Care Act”, on March 1, 2023. The bill will legalize medical marijuana in the state but with tight restrictions, and it will also mean that nonmedical consumption of marijuana will remain a criminal offense. If Mary Jane is allowed to visit her sick grandma in NC, why isn’t she allowed to see the rest of us?

The state house of the General Assembly of North Carolina is asking the same question. House Bill 626 was recently proposed on April 17, 2023 to advocate for the legal possession and sale of cannabis, claiming the prohibition of marijuana to be just as ineffective as the prohibition of alcohol. To maintain this momentum, NC constituents must contact our legislators and district offices and highlight the advantages of legalization.

These advantages include the physical and mental benefits derived from consuming marijuana. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) reports that cannabinoids are helpful in treating forms of epilepsy as well as side effects of cancer chemotherapy. This is why the N.C. Compassionate Care Act legalized medical marijuana for patients with chronic illnesses including epilepsy, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. However, health professionals have also acknowledged its benefits for other ailments, such as by reducing anxiety or relieving pain. Thus, there are medicinal benefits which apply to more than just those who currently qualify under the law.

Marijuana is often used for relaxation purposes but also in social settings or for fun. In this way, it is regarded similarly to alcohol, and we must acknowledge marijuana opponents’ argument that, just like alcohol, it may have adverse effects on one’s well-being. Marijuana, however, has been proven to have less severe effects than alcohol, so if alcohol is legal, why is marijuana not? If NC trusts adults to control their alcohol intake, then they should also be trusted with the less dangerous alternative.

Ultimately, it is the free and legal adult consumer’s responsibility to monitor their usage and the effects these substances have on them, and legalization may help consumers in doing this. For example, in Nevada, Fine Cannabis Dispensary reports that a majority of marijuana customers prefer to purchase from legal dispensaries rather than through alternative mediums such as the black market. Thus, even opponents of legalization cannot neglect the benefits of standardizing marijuana production and adopting safer regulatory practices.

There is also an economic incentive to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in NC. We can examine the experiences of Nevada as a model for potential consequences in North Carolina. After legalizing marijuana, sales in Nevada totaled more than $8 billion, and the industry employed more than 120,000 people in 2017 alone. With the increasing population and proportion of young adults in the Triangle, NC may expect to see a similar outcome.

In 2021, 43% of young adults (19–30 years old) in the United States reported marijuana use in the past year, and in Raleigh, around 62% of the total population is of the young adult segment (5% more than in Las Vegas, Nevada). These statistics suggest that NC could expect a comparable market size and substantial economic growth as well. At the same time and to contenders’ ease, we must acknowledge the value in setting an age requirement, 21+ like for alcohol, to ensure safe and responsible consumption, even amongst younger adults.

Mary Jane should be allowed to befriend all legal adults but currently is restricted to only those adults who medically qualify. The state has made significant strides in pushing forward marijuana-related policy, but the proposal of House Bill 626 presents an excellent opportunity for NC residents to advocate for recreational legalization. Supporters must utilize this by informing our legislators and emphasizing the variety of benefits which legalization will have in the state.

Jaden Snyder is from Las Vegas, Nevada and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.