North Carolina has always had a split attitude toward recreational drug use: Tobacco is OK, alcohol not so much. Now more attention is being focused on a third widely used drug – marijuana.
It is now legal to buy marijuana in Colorado and Washington. The venerable New York Times recently called for its national legalization.
Even the sharply conservative North Carolina legislature recently took a modest, noncontroversial step by allowing patients with persistent seizures to be treated with cannabidiol extracted from hemp, as long as they qualify for pilot studies. The law allows selected universities in the state to grow cannabis for study.
But based on history, North Carolina is likely to be one of the last states in the country to legalize pot, if it ever does so. That is because while North Carolina is a forward-thinking state in many ways – education, research and culture, for example – it is also very socially conservative.
North Carolina was the first state in the South to vote for Prohibition – 62-38 percent in 1908 – going dry more than a decade before Prohibition became the national law in 1920.
The state was kept dry by a powerful political coalition of preachers and bootleggers. (My first sip of alcohol was from a Mason jar, the product of a bootlegger.)
Prohibition was repealed nationally in 1933, but North Carolina never voted to repeal. In fact, North Carolina voted 293,484 to 120,120 against considering ratification of the repeal amendment.
However, since it was the law of the land, the 1935 legislature agreed to set up a state-run monopoly of Alcoholic Beverage Control stores, with the first one opening in Wilson on July 2, 1935.
The North Carolina legislature did not permit the sale of cocktails until 1978 – the last state to prohibit what was called “liquor-by-the drink” except for Oklahoma. I covered that debate, as a well-known drunk stood up on the Senate floor and roared against the evils of “demon rum” for the benefit of church-going constituents back home. One lawmaker warned that if cocktails were allowed, textile workers would soon be enjoying three-martini lunches, and what would that do, he asked, to North Carolina’s work ethic?
There are plenty of other signs of North Carolina’s social conservatism. North Carolina was the last state on the East Coast to adopt a state lottery. The North Carolina legislature voted against federal constitutional amendments extending women the right to vote in 1920 and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. It also voted for a state constitutional amendment affirming in 2012 that a marriage was between a man and a woman.
But even in North Carolina, you can see attitudes beginning to change toward marijuana.
A plurality of North Carolinians, 48 percent, don’t think marijuana should be legal, while 42 percent favor it, according to a survey conducted in January by Public Policy Polling. The poll was sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
But the poll did find that 63 percent believe doctors should have the right to prescribe marijuana for medical use – up from 58 percent a year ago.
So while public opinion may be moving on the subject, don’t expect Rocky Mountain high to become Rocky Mount high.
Christensen: 919-829-4532 or [email protected]
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