NC Welcomes New Neighbors, Supports Legalization

September 13, 2021

The latest Carolina Forward polling suggests North Carolina’s leaders are way out of step with voters on yet two more issues: marijuana legalization and immigration. A deeply bipartisan plurality of voters supports wider legalization marijuana for medical and recreational use, and a large majority say that undocumented immigrants should be given a pathway to full citizenship. Additionally – and with one notable exception – an even larger majority of voters agrees that undocumented immigrants are hardworking, honest people.

Among registered North Carolina voters, support for full legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use hit a plurality of 44% support, with an additional 31% supporting medical-only legalization. Only a scant 16% of voters agreed with the total prohibition of today’s status quo:

Men were 18 points more likely than women to support full legalization, though both groups were otherwise similar. Total prohibition on marijuana did not garner more than 20% support in any voter age group, though full legalization was least popular - at 29% - among voters 65 and over.

Despite its overwhelming popularity with voters, North Carolina’s legislature has dragged its feet for years in changing how the law treats marijuana. Democrats have regularly filed bills to permit both medical and recreational uses, but those have died quietly in the Republican-controlled legislature. This year, however, there is a slow, painful grind towards approval of SB711, a bill that would legalize marijuana for a relatively narrow set of medical uses only. The reason seems to be because some key Republican members changed their minds - but only after the issue affected them personally. 

Sen. Bill Rabon, the powerful Republican Senate Rules Committee chair, is widely assumed to have used medical marijuana - illegally, of course - during his successful battle with colon cancer. Sen. Kathy Harrington, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, cited her husband’s blood cancer diagnosis as a reason for her reversal on the issue. These experiences demonstrate the persistent two-track pattern of legality for marijuana, wherein marijuana laws are enforced against some people, but not others. Black people are arrested for marijuana-related crimes at a ratio of 4:1 with whites, despite similar usage rates.

Will this be the year North Carolina cracks open the door to some level of legalization? Maybe. But many observers are pessimistic.

North Carolina Welcomes Immigrants

Turning to immigration, North Carolina voters are quite open to welcoming new neighbors. By a whopping 13-point margin, voters want to see a pathway to full citizenship for undocumented immigrants:

Informing that view is a fundamentally friendly attitude towards undocumented immigrants. By a huge margin, most voters think highly of undocumented immigrants themselves and their reasons for coming to the United States - with only one major exception. Can you spot it?

While a slight majority of Republican respondents agreed with this characterization, 39% did not, reflecting a remarkable level of nativist sentiment in the GOP base. While that result is notable, it is nevertheless far removed from overall results. This is consistent with repeated results showing that very conservative voters are increasingly out of touch with mainstream opinion.

These results are welcome news to those who embrace diverse, pluralistic and dynamic North Carolina communities and a more vibrant state economy. The voters believe it is time to extend full citizenship to undocumented immigrants who’ve made America their home. Will their leaders follow suit?

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