The Benefits Outweigh the Costs: It is Time to Legalize Marijuana in North Carolina

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readFeb 26, 2024

Michael Mohs (PPS ‘25)

Michael Mohs (PPS ‘25)

In the North Carolina General Assembly there are two bills making their way through the lawmaking process focused on legalizing recreational marijuana. House Bill 626 and Senate Bill 346 would both legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in North Carolina, which is currently not allowed, even though 57% of voters support marijuana’s legalization. Both bills establish a framework for production and sale in the state, along with recommendations on how legal marijuana could be taxed. As the state legislature considers two bills calling for the legalization of marijuana, the time has come for North Carolina to legalize recreational marijuana and uplift the communities that need it most.

Marijuana being illegal in North Carolina does not effectively prevent people from obtaining marijuana. In the current illegal market, it is still somewhat easy for North Carolinians to obtain marijuana. What this results in is a black market riddled with quality control issues, crime and violence, and no benefit for communities. Illegal marijuana is neither regulated nor controlled by the government, resulting in the distribution of marijuana laced with dangerous and possibly life-threatening drugs, inorganic substances, and additives. The illegal marijuana market is also controlled by gangs and cartels, perpetuating violence and destabilizing communities.

The legalization of marijuana in North Carolina would benefit communities that need help the most. Legalization could provide much-needed increased tax revenue, revitalizing public goods such as education. It would also provide jobs and increase economic growth in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. These communities would also experience less gang and cartel violence from illegal drug distribution. Legalization would decrease the number of individuals who are incarcerated for minor drug charges that then struggle to adjust to life after release and ensure that all marijuana sold is regulated and safe.

In states that legalized marijuana, such as Colorado, taxation of recreational marijuana has brought in significant amounts of revenue. Colorado has utilized a tax system that has recently collected over $400 million in 2021. A significant portion of this tax revenue is funneled into the state’s public education system. North Carolina currently has inexcusably low public education funding. In a state with a challenged public school system, the tax revenue generated from legalizing marijuana could go directly back into the communities providing the revenue. This could turn struggling schools and their communities around.

Communities across North Carolina would benefit not just from the increased tax revenue, but also the jobs that would accompany the legal marijuana industry. Across the country, the cannabis industry provides nearly 250,000 full time jobs. If marijuana was legalized nationally, the industry is predicted to provide an estimated 1.6 million new jobs. Whether marijuana was legalized nationally or only in North Carolina, many of those jobs would provide struggling North Carolinians with new employment opportunities.

While Whites, POC, and individuals at every socioeconomic level are utilizing marijuana at similar levels, studies show people of color and socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are disproportionately punished by the law. Across the country, African Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis. Incarceration due to drug offenses results in the destabilization of the lives of those incarcerated and the ones they leave behind. This can ruin communities, and create a cycle of incarceration resulting in more severe crimes. The bills currently working their way through the North Carolina General Assembly provide individuals with the ability to have previous marijuana-related convictions expunged from their records, and decrease the number of individuals charged with life-ruining drug offenses.

The legalization of marijuana has traditionally been fought against for reasons proven to be false. Marijuana does not cause more harm to society and the user than alcohol and tobacco, and does not result in increased cognitive, psychological, or financial problems. Marijuana is also not a gateway drug. The legalization of marijuana has also been found not to increase substance abuse, the use of other illicit drugs among adults, or significant use of the drug beyond previous levels.

As someone who has neither used marijuana nor plans to, the benefits of legalizing marijuana are still incredibly apparent. The legalization of marijuana would bring money, jobs, much needed increased tax revenue, decreased mass incarceration, and increased safety into the North Carolina communities that need it the most. The North Carolina General Assembly must support the legalization of marijuana and the progress of House Bill 626 and Senate Bill 346.

Michael Mohs is from Morristown, New Jersey 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.