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In case you're paranoid — here's what to expect from local police on 4/20

A UNC student lights a joint filled with marijuana as part of a photo illustration. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, co-sponsored a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. 

A UNC student lights a joint filled with marijuana as part of a photo illustration. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, co-sponsored a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. 

College students and residents alike may “blaze it” this April 20, residents of Carrboro and Chapel Hill shouldn’t expect changes in police presence and enforcement.

April 20, commonly known as 4/20, has become a day known for marijuana use. 

The Chapel Hill Police Department (CHPD) said they tend to operate with the same level of presence and diligence on April 20 as the rest of the year because they never had issues in previous years to suggest otherwise. 

“We don't treat April 20 in Chapel Hill any differently than any other day. We have our normal police presence and treat illegal drug use the same as the other 364 days of the year,” said spokesperson Ran Northam in an email.

Northam said there was one person arrested by the Chapel Hill Police Department on last year’s April 20. The person was arrested for possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver marijuana.

Brad Ward, narcotics investigator with the Carrboro Police Department, said in an email that there doesn’t tend to be an increase in drug charges on April 20 in Carrboro either. 

“There will be no increased police presence. Historically there hasn’t been an increase in incidents on 4/20 to warrant an increased presence,” Ward said.

Ward said that last year's April 20 there were no charges made for possession or the intent to sell marijuana in Carrboro. 

Chief Police Officer of CHPD Chris Blue said that reducing the emphasis on low level possession crimes such as possession of a low level of marijuana is an intentional effort to maximize and most efficiently respond to community needs.

“We don’t spend a whole lot of enforcement time on low level, low volume drug arrests. That's not necessarily the best use of our time,” said Blue. “There’s organizational philosophy that we don’t do lots of low level marijuana enforcement.”

Since the start of this year to April 19, CHPD has made 43 drug-related arrests and citations.

“We know that statistically across the country that the outcomes in terms of criminal charges for low level possession of marijuana tend to be skewed towards African Americans and there’s a significant disparity there,” Blue said. “Without corresponding data to suggest, by the way, that African Americans possess and use marijuana at significantly higher rates than anybody else.”

Blue said he also hasn’t heard significant concern from residents that low level marijuana possession has been an issue. He said that he thinks people in the community are also aware of the disparate outcomes of charges and expect the CHPD to be thinking about ways to mitigate those disparities.

“I think our community has been heard much more that way than specifically taking a position on marijuana enforcement just on its face,” Blue said.


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