A Forsyth County legislator reintroduced Wednesday a Senate bill that would make it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for personal use.

However, Senate Bill 58 would allow individuals to be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor if they exceed 3 ounces of marijuana.

The bill would go into effect July 1, if signed into law.

A similar bill was introduced in the 2018 session, but was not heard in the Senate Rules and Operations committee.

That version would have allowed a person to legally possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana.

Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, and the primary sponsor of both bills, said he has introduced them in an effort “to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. This is heading in the right direction.”

“There are new legislators with differing outlooks on a lot of legislation being reintroduced, so now let’s see if the legislation gets a different reception.”

Currently, possession of one-half of an ounce or less of a controlled substance is a Class 3 misdemeanor. That is punishable by up to 20 days of active jail time — which typically is suspended — or a requirement of community service.

By contrast, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 120 days of an active sentence.

The bill would exempt up to 3 ounces of marijuana from being considered a controlled substance.

The bills also would raise the weight of marijuana an individual can possess from 1.5 ounces to a pound before it qualifies as a Class 1 felony, which is punishable by an active sentence of up to five months.

Jim O’Neill, district attorney for Forsyth County, said in 2018 that the bills should be “thoroughly vetted, and must include and consider the scientific community’s evidence of the damage caused to the developing adolescent brain caused by marijuana smoking.”

“Conservatively speaking, four ounces of marijuana has a street value of $1,000 and can be broken down into about 120 marijuana cigarettes.”

The bills would leave the amount of hashish unchanged at no more than one-twentieth of an ounce to avoid a Class 1 misdemeanor, and no more than three-twentieths of an ounce to avoid a Class 1 felony.

With respect to previous convictions, the bill allows individuals found guilty of possessing 3 ounces or less of marijuana to file a petition in Superior Court in the county in which they were convicted. There would be a $100 cost to file the petition.

A judge could conduct a hearing on the petition and determine whether an expunction of the conviction is warranted. If an expunction is granted, all law enforcement agencies would be required to expunge their records of the conviction as well.

According to DISA Global Solutions a pro-marijuana website, there are 10 states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, along with Washington, D.C. — that allow for legal recreational possession of marijuana. Those states limit how much can be possessed at one time.

There are 32 states, not including North Carolina, with medical cannabis laws.

“Unfortunately, voters can’t place measures on the ballot in North Carolina,” DISA said.

“But with more and more states enacting medical cannabis laws, and 80 percent of North Carolina voters in support (according to a May 2017 Elon University poll), pressure is building on the state legislature ... and several of the lawmakers were newly elected in November.”

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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