Rep. Kelly Alexander says it was August’s Medical Cannabis Town Hall in Charlotte that convinced him to start the North Carolina General Assembly’s cannabis caucus. The group of legislators was supposed to meet Monday, but no one showed.

Alexander isn’t bothered by the no-shows at all. “There is a lot happening via email,” he explained, adding that he set the meeting schedule several weeks ago and since then several other meetings were scheduled that conflicted with the caucus meeting.

[Photos from the Medical Marijuana Town Hall in Charlotte by Grant Baldwin, Aug. 2018. Click the arrows to see them all.]

“I’ve been on the phone with several members today,” said Alexander, who also noted that Democrats in the General Assembly widely support cannabis reform. He decided not to cancel the meeting because, he said, of worries that some legislators might not receive the message.

Rep. John Autry (D-Dist. 100, Mecklenburg) said on Sunday that he hoped to attend but didn’t think he would be able to do so. He co-sponsored Alexander’s last cannabis bill, HB 994, titled simply “Revise Marijuana Laws.”

“The town hall conducted in Charlotte by Rep. Alexander provided me with an opportunity to network with advocates and reaffirm my support for medical marijuana,” wrote Autry via email.

Asked why he supports cannabis reform, Autry responded, “It’s about the health and well-being of North Carolinians.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Dist. 57, Guilford) also co-sponsored HB 994. She, too, wanted to attend but had other obligations. “I hope to sponsor legislation on medical cannabis next year with Alexander. I have been working on this for 14 years,” she wrote in an email.

Carolina Cannabis News twice asked the N.C. GOP to comment on the formation of the caucus. No one responded.

What is a caucus?

The Associated Press Stylebook, used by journalists worldwide as a writing guide, defines a caucus as “a private meeting of leaders or a committee of a political party or faction to decide on policy … “

Alexander says the caucus will be modeled on the Cannabis Caucus in the U.S. Congress that was formed in 2017 by members of Congress representing legal states.

A caucus meeting does not meet the standards of a public meeting under North Carolina law since they are considered strategy meetings, so media could have been excluded. When asked if Carolina Cannabis News could sit in on the meeting, however, Alexander said, “This is the people’s house, of course you can.”

[Image by James Willamor.]

Find out who your N.C. General Assembly legislators are and how to contact them here.

The state of cannabis reform in N.C.

There are 63 cannabis bills in Congress right now, according to MarijuanaMoment.net’s bill tracker, which is accessible to their sustaining Patron subscribers, of which Carolina Cannabis News is one.

There were five cannabis reform bills filed in the N.C. General Assembly (NCGA) during the 2018 short session. None of them made it to the House or Senate floor for a debate. That is the usual fate of cannabis bills in the NCGA — they die in committee, where they usually don’t even receive hearings.

Sen. Paul A. Lowe, Jr. (D-Dist. 32, Forsyth), a pastor and native of Seattle, stopped by Alexander’s office hoping to catch the end of the caucus meeting. He says he is likely to follow Alexander’s lead on cannabis reform and that he favors legalizing medical cannabis for reasons that are rooted in compassion for those who are ill.

Click the play button above to listen to state Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr. discuss cannabis legislation in North Carolina. The podcast episode was taped in Aug. 2018.

During the 2018 short session, Lowe filed a companion bill to Alexander’s HB 994 – SB 791 –in the Senate. It, too, got stuck in committee and received no hearing.

The session that convenes this week is an extension of the year’s third special session and is expected to focus on voter I.D. laws. Don’t expect any new cannabis legislation this year. But next year expect four or more bills to be filed between the state House of Representatives and the Senate.

Special sessions, which cost taxpayers an estimated $42,000 per day, used to be rare and reserved for urgent issues, but since 2016 – when there were five – they have become commonplace. In this week’s case, the most recent special session wasn’t adjourned and Nov. 27 was established as the date when the NCGA would convene to continue the work of that session.

So far in the third special session of 2018, 15 bills related to Hurricane Florence relief have been voted on, eight in the House of Representative and seven in the Senate.

2019 Long Session Preview

Alexander says to expect the first of his bills – he’s working on several, one to modernize expungement law and another focused on decriminalization – to be filed in late January or early February. He said he’s also working on legislation that would allow for a local option similar to the state’s ABC laws.

It’s also likely that bills will be filed to help those participating in the N.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program with their banking woes.

As Joellyn Evans, owner of My Green Room – a hemp dispensary in Rutherfordton, N.C. — explained during a podcast interview, banking continues to be a challenge for the state’s hemp companies, as it is for cannabis companies nationwide. She explained that she has had to change banks more than once since opening her store earlier this year. Further, she said, when she can find credit card processors they treat the hemp industry as “high risk” and charge additional fees not charged to most other companies, driving the price of hemp products higher than they would be otherwise.

My Green Room is a sponsor of Carolina Cannabis News.

It’s the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, which makes it illegal in the eyes of  the federal government, that causes banks to freak out and do things like shut down a political candidate’s bank account because they received a donation from a cannabis firm.

Carolina Cannabis News reviewed Alexander’s campaign finance reports from 2017 and 2018 – the forth quarter report is due in early January – and did not find any donations from cannabis companies and only one noticeable donation from a hemp company owner. That donation was for $50.

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.

[Header image: Sen. Paul Lowe (l) and Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr., Nov. 26, 2018. By Rhiannon Fionn.]