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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.

Charlotte City Council member passes around a 'legal joint' in closed session

Charlotte City Council meeting
CIty of Charlotte
Renee Johnson, center, in pink, on the night she passed around a legal cannabis joint during a closed session meeting.

This story originally appeared in the Inside Politics newsletter, out Fridays. Sign up here to get it first to your inbox.

The Charlotte City Council met in closed session this week to review the police body camera footage from a violent arrest in November after police said two people were smoking marijuana at a bus stop.

There are stories detailing the videos from WFAE and The Observer.

During the meeting, City Council member Renee Johnson passed around the room a legal, mind-altering cannabis cigarette and a pre-packaged bag of loose cannabis flower. It was THC-A, a new wildly popular strain of intoxicating cannabis. CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings was also there.

“My point was to educate my colleagues on THC-A so that we can develop educated and necessary policies,” she said.

Her message about THC-A was on point.

In the video, when police approached Anthony Lee and Christina Pierre, an officer asked if they were smoking marijuana. They told the officer they were smoking a THC-A cigarette, which converts to Delta 9 THC when smoked.

It’s sold all over Charlotte. It looks and smells just like marijuana.

The officer did not engage with them on whether the substance was legal. He quickly moved to arrest them, perhaps not even aware that THC-A exists.

During a news conference Tuesday, CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings defended the initial encounter that led to the arrest. And he pointed to a crime lab analysis of Lee and Pierre’s cigarette that showed it had THC. He said that clearly showed it was illegal marijuana.

But Phil Dixon with UNC’s School of Government, an expert on the state’s hemp laws, said North Carolina crime labs can’t distinguish between THC-A and Delta 9 THC.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.