Matthew E. Benson: ‘Smoke Weed Or Pay

I remember trying to convince my friends that Hillary Clinton was “old” for elected office. She was 62, and the state of North Carolina hadn’t been in the formative stages of a recreational cannabis…

Matthew E. Benson: ‘Smoke Weed Or Pay

I remember trying to convince my friends that Hillary Clinton was “old” for elected office. She was 62, and the state of North Carolina hadn’t been in the formative stages of a recreational cannabis law yet.

Today, marijuana is commonplace in the state, and North Carolina is not known as the archaic, “plant girl state” she hoped it would be.

Part of the reason I grew up believing marijuana was truly harmful is because politicians suggested it was even more dangerous than illegal. The most progressive cannabis drug policy in the country is North Carolina, where licensing new dispensaries can help ease the opioid crisis that has ravaged much of the state. A new federal farm bill allows tobacco farmers more access to hemp research for potential export to nations eager to replace combustible leaf with non-psychoactive cannabis. And cannabis continues to rapidly evolve into a more mainstream medicine.

Prohibition is over, it’s time to shine a light on where this money is spent. – Matthew E. Benson

Today, social and fiscal pressures must force reconsideration of the statewide cannabis system, too. Though medicinal use for marijuana is legal, there’s only one licensed dispensary in a city of 1.6 million people.

Some North Carolina counties, especially in rural areas, are in desperate need of a dispensary, as more than 10 percent of adults in some counties smoke the illegal, reefer-laden version of the drug. In those places, there may be two or three storefront pot shops to serve all the growth in demand.

Other counties, including Durham, enjoy a dominant market with all the low-regulation “mother sauce” dispensaries at a point of either overproduction or underutilization. The results of unequal access to a legal product translates to money for the offender. Those counties endure a disproportionate number of violent crimes and high rates of opioid and related overdoses.

Then there’s the capital city of Raleigh. Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press conference: “Medicinal marijuana can be critically important to people in North Carolina — including those who need a quality substitute for prescription pain pills. I was proud to stand with officials from Wake County and other communities across the state as we endorsed the passage of a North Carolina law that allows marijuana to be used in prescription pain relief.”

Cooper is telling the truth. Sales of marijuana for relief of pain are expected to grow by more than 5,000 percent over the next five years.

Seeing how we used to spend $10 billion per year on one painkiller, this one essentially, and related overdoses of opioids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said: “Allowing states to experiment with marijuana has been…counterproductive. … If the misuse and abuse of marijuana are going to decline, then marijuana will have to be made safe.”

The CBD oil that’s licensed and taxed, but the hemp oil is not. Yet other U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana have banned cannabidiol because it’s not CBD, i.e., non-psychoactive oil. The NC Department of Health and Human Services believes the THC-free CBD won’t be as powerful as opioids and doesn’t deserve a license.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, however, feels differently. In May, it approved, for the second time, an emergency administrative order to allow cannabis oil oil for recreational purposes.

So more marijuana businesses are popping up across the state. They’re inundated with callers. If the state has to shutter dispensaries to balance the budget, North Carolina is going to have to close up shop on stores it cannot afford. Thousands of marijuana industry jobs will evaporate. All that has been accomplished is to create costly red tape.

A public health economist says new ordinances are in the works to raise new revenue for counties from legal cannabis retail, while promoting development that generates commercial revenues. But the ordinances are just that. As long as new business is taxed, more will be raised to try to justify the arbitrary rules and regulations that have strangled the marijuana industry.

Exclusionary laws and federal laws excluding marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act still have the ability to disrupt North Carolina’s right to self-determination.

Exportation is the key to reducing overdose and opioid addiction, yet conservatives have been slow to embrace hemp as a cornerstone of anti-drug initiatives. Hemp’s hemp farming is legal throughout the U.S. Not only do hemp farmers increase their knowledge of how to best manage pests and undesirable weeds, but the relative relative ease with which hemp can be genetically modified to create safer, healthier, more plant-like and high-margin products for the global market means it also can play a role in ensuring the ban on DEA-selected pesticides

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