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Politics
The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Jeff Jackson Campaigns For Marijuana Legalization, But Is Less Involved With Legalization Legislation

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In his bid for U.S. Senate, Democrat Jeff Jackson has campaigned on legalizing marijuana.

Jackson, a state senator from Charlotte, has said North Carolina must follow the lead of 18 states that includes neighboring Virginia, and make marijuana legal.

“Y’all want to talk about marijuana? Let’s do it,” He posted on Twitter in June. “So we’re running a 100-county campaign for U.S. Senate in North Carolina and this is an issue that’s coming up everywhere. People see the direction that Virginia has gone. They’ve decided to take a regulatory approach, like alcohol and tobacco instead of a criminal approach. … Folks it’s time to end the prohibition of cannabis.”

But while Jackson has campaigned on legalizing marijuana in North Carolina, he hasn’t been a key player on legalization bills during this legislative session.

The bill that has a chance of passing is the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize medical marijuana.

Initially there was a Democratic medical marijuana bill, which was sponsored by Democratic Sens. Wiley Nickel, Natasha Marcus and Natalie Murdock. Jackson was not a sponsor. Powerful GOP Sen. Bill Rabon signed on to the effort, and Republicans filed their own medical marijuana bill.

Four Democrats are co-sponsors of Rabon’s bill: Paul Lowe, Kirk deViere, Mike Woodard, and Nickel. Jackson didn’t sign onto that either.

He also didn’t sponsor a broad-ranging Democratic bill that would make marijuana legal, much like it is in Virginia. Seven Democrats sponsored that bill, including Mecklenburg Sens. DeAndrea Salvador and Natasha Marcus.

Jackson did co-sponsor SB483, which would lessen the penalties for some marijuana cases. It would also provide money for drug treatment. The drug would remain illegal. As a former prosecutor in Gaston County, Jackson has often focused on criminal justice issues, such as his push for a law that closed a loophole that said a man can't be guilty of rape if a woman agrees to sex, even if she withdraws her initial consent.

Like the wide-ranging legalization bill, Jackson’s marijuana bill doesn’t appear to be moving forward. Bipartisan momentum is behind Rabon’s medical marijuana bill.

Jackson campaign spokesperson Ty McEachern said Jackson was being pragmatic in not sponsoring the more wide-ranging bills. Jackson said in a statement that he sponsored SB483 because it “had the best chance of actually passing under the current Republican majority at the state legislature.”

Jackson added: “At the federal level, we have a bigger opportunity to make progress, starting with removing cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance and expunging cannabis convictions to let folks move on with their lives. I fully support the MORE Act which would end the federal prohibition of cannabis and be incredibly helpful in assisting those who were impacted by its criminalization.”

The question about Jackson not sponsoring the type of bills he is campaigning on can be seen in two ways.

On one hand, Jackson is a member of the minority party, and his willingness to sponsor a bill means very little in terms of it passing. (In fact, it could be argued that because of his star power in the Democratic Party, his involvement could make Republicans less likely to vote for it.)

On the other hand, the disconnect highlights a debate among other legislators, both Republicans and Democrats: Is Jackson a showhorse or workhorse?

Jackson has his own brand that’s separate from the Democratic caucus. He is a social media star. He is a great campaigner, drawing sizeable crowds on a 100-county tour he recently finished. He excites the Democratic base when he attacks Republicans.

Former state Sen. Erica Smith, who is running as the most progressive candidate in the Democratic primary, sponsored at least three bills relating to medical marijuana, dating back to the 2017-2018 session. Her campaign spokesperson, Morris Katz, said “while other candidates have waited until it was politically convenient, Senator Smith has been fighting to legalize cannabis for years.”

He said that “policy is personal for her in a way that frankly it doesn't seem like it is for Senator Jackson and that's reflected in their respective records on this issue.”

Former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley said in a statement that she “believes that legalizing and regulating cannabis will strengthen North Carolina’s economy, provide new opportunities for family farms, and help usher in critical reforms in our criminal justice system.”

Beasley and Jackson are considered the front-runners in the race.

Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton is also running in the Democratic primary. He said legalizing medical marijuana is a “no-brainer.” As for full legalization, he said his “only reservation … is … we need to fully understand the potential for addiction…and ensure we have the regulatory framework in place to minimize addiction.”

Democrat Richard Watkins, a virologist, also supports legalization, saying “criminalization has been a burden on poor communities.”

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