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RALEIGH – Support for protecting citizens from unwarranted government surveillance and moving toward more compassionate medical marijuana laws may be rising in the North Carolina General Assembly, according to an annual legislative report card released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC). The report card shows how members of the North Carolina House and Senate voted on legislation introduced during the 2014 session concerning five key civil liberties issues: privacy rights, protections for government whistleblowers, religious liberty, racial and juvenile justice, and compassionate drug policy.

Of particular note, 18 Senate Republicans voted against H.B. 348, which would have dramatically expanded the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) on state-owned roads and highways without including crucial safeguards to protect people’s privacy from unwarranted government surveillance. The ACLU-NC has been working with lawmakers from both parties to pass substantive privacy protections concerning law enforcement’s use of ALPRs and other surveillance technology that is currently unregulated in North Carolina. 

“North Carolinians who support civil liberties should be cautiously optimistic about the growing numbers of lawmakers who support protecting people’s privacy from unwarranted government surveillance,” said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston. “The near unanimous support for providing patients suffering from epileptic seizures with safe access to a marijuana-based oil is also very encouraging, and we continue to urge lawmakers to extend their compassion to other North Carolinians who are suffering and could benefit from a comprehensive medical marijuana law. However, support for many other key civil liberties, particularly religious liberty for students of minority beliefs, was sorely lacking in both political parties this session.”

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RALEIGH – North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory today said he will sign legislation that will allow neurologists to recommend a marijuana-extract oil to patients suffering from intractable seizures and epilepsy. House Bill 1220, which would allow such patients to use an oil derived from a strain of marijuana that is high in the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) but low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), was overwhelmingly approved by both chambers of the General Assembly. No other conditions would be covered by the law.

“It’s very encouraging to see North Carolina take this first step toward more compassionate medical marijuana laws, but this bill overlooks countless North Carolinians suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDs, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions who could benefit from safe and legal access to medical marijuana,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “The General Assembly and Governor McCrory should be applauded for demonstrating compassion for sufferers of epilepsy, but under current state law, other patients who use marijuana to relieve their symptoms are still wrongly treated as criminals. We urge lawmakers to extend their compassion to other patients who could benefit from safe and legal access to marijuana by either approving or putting on the ballot a proposal for a well-regulated and more inclusive medical marijuana system in North Carolina.”

Another N.C. bill, HB 1161, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Alexander, would place a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot that would allow licensed doctors to recommend marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, ALS, and other debilitating conditions, and would create a regulated system so patients could access their medicine safely.

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By Mike Meno, ACLU-NC Communications Director

Yesterday, the North Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow neurologists to recommend an oil derived from marijuana compounds to certain patients suffering from epileptic conditions. The legislation was inspired in part by 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who made national news on CNN for a chronic, debilitating condition that could be relieved only through the marijuana-based treatment. Charlotte suffered up to 50 painful seizures a day before her parents discovered that an oil derived from a strain of marijuana that was high in the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) but low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) virtually ended her seizures entirely and allowed her to live a happy and healthy life.

“She had gone from not being able to hold her head up to being able to walk and talk and use a computer in just months,” North Carolina Rep. Pat McElraft explained during emotional testimony on the House floor yesterday before her colleagues voted 111-2 to approve the treatment that may very well have saved Charlotte’s life. 

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RALEIGH – According to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, North Carolina spent nearly $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, while statewide African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.4 times the rate of whites, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race.

Statewide, North Carolina law enforcement made 20,983 marijuana arrests in 2010 – the 10th most in the nation – and marijuana possession arrests accounted for 53.6 percent of all drug arrests in North Carolina in 2010. Fifty percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in North Carolina were African American, even though statewide African Americans comprise only 22 percent of the population – a 28 point difference.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost. The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work.”

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