Durham Ponders Possible Pot Enforcement Priorities with Push From FADE | News

Durham Ponders Possible Pot Enforcement Priorities with Push From FADE

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As some states continue to deprioritize, or even decriminalize marijuana, Thursday the Drug Enforcement Administration denied bids from Rhode Gov. Gina Raimondo, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and a New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm to loosen up federal restrictions on marijuana. 

Marijuana, as reaffirmed, is a Schedule I drug. 

The Controlled Substance Act puts it in the same classification as heroin and LSD.  The North Carolina Controlled Substance Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule VI drug

Schedule VI drugs are defined as those with "no currently accepted medical use in the United States, or a relatively low potential for abuse." That definition puts it at odds with the federal schedule, which labels Schedule I drugs as those with "high potential for abuse" and "are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules." 

In North Carolina if you're caught with less than a half-ounce of weed on you it's a Class 3 Misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $200. If caught with between a half-ounce and 1.5 ounces you'll be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor with a one to forty-five day jail sentence and a maximum fine of $1,000. Anything more than 1.5 ounces you're looking at a felony charge. 

In Durham where more than 80 percent misdemeanor marijuana arrests in the city are African-Americans, there's a continued push to deprioritize possession enforcement. But the route to depriortization is littered with as many potholes as the downtown Durham Loop. 

The FADE—Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement—Coalition has been pushing for deprioritization of marijuana. It set up meetings with the Durham City Council and has even drafted a potential local ordinance and resolution to get the ball rolling. 

But city officials aren't quite clear as to what needs to happen if they decide to deprioritize misdemeanor marijuana charges since marijuana regulations are set by the state. 

There's two thoughts to this—pass an ordinance or directing the Durham Police Department to make misdemeanor marijuana arrests a low priority. And one of those options has less chance for the General Assembly to get involved than the other. 

If the City Council were to pass an ordinance telling DPD to focus its efforts elsewhere, there's worry—rightly so—that the General Assembly could get involved in some way shape or form, and well, we all know what happens when that goes down. 

The other option would have the City Council give DPD some guidance on the matter and tell it to focus  efforts away from low-level enforcement. 

Mayor Bill Bell, in an email to FADE on Aug. 1 said: 
As you probably know, any proposed ordinances relative to the police department operations, in my opinion, should first  be vetted by the City Attorney Office’s for their review and advice before being adopted by the majority of the City Council. Likewise I would expect to hear comments from the City Manager, in as much as the Police Department reports directly to him and not to the city council.

As I have said earlier I appreciate your efforts to address the subject and look forward to being able to foster and support an ordinance that is agreeable with your goals and the City’s goals on the subject, and is supported by the City Council, City Attorney and the City Manager.

FADE Ordinance Proposed ordinance concerning marijuana enforcement priorities. FADE Resolution Proposed resolution concerning marijuana enforcement priorities.

FADE's ordinance and resolution are being reviewed by officials and it's likely the City Council could be briefed on their options as early as August 18. 

Durham's racial disparities in drug enforcement are nothing new. Last November Self-Help Credit Union released a study that found African-Americans under the age of twenty-five made up 15 percent of the city's population yet accounted for 46 percent of misdemeanor marijuana charges. 

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