Activists Rally at NC General Assembly for Medicinal Marijuana Bill

marijuana_on_scaleRALEIGH—Supporters of medical marijuana gathered in Raleigh on Thursday.

For years, a small group of legislators have been pushing to legalize the medicinal use of the plant, which can be used to treat a variety problems—including epilepsy, glaucoma, pain, and several other issues.

House Bill 78, the  North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act, has been filed again this year in the NC House to legalize medical marijuana, and 15 members, all Democrats, have signed on as sponsors.

However, supporters say realistically they know this is still an uphill battle to convince most lawmakers that the plant is a safe alternative.

“I am an officer and a gentleman. I give you my word, as an officer, that this medication worked far better than anything I was doing, it is far safer. And I will not quit until it is legal in North Carolina,” said Perry Parks, Executive Director of the Cannabis Patients Network.

According to a January poll, 70 percent of North Carolinians support a doctors right to prescribe medical marijuana. Across the United States, 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have already approved medical marijuana.

There has been no hearing scheduled for this bill.

Opening Statements Delivered in Jonathan Broyhill Murder Trial

Jon Broyhill

Jon Broyhill

RALEIGH—The trial is underway for the man accused of stabbing a prominent political strategist to death in her home in April 2013.

Jonathan Broyhill is charged with first-degree murder for the death of Jamie Hahn. Opening statements were delivered by both sides Wednesday morning.

Broyhill worked for Hahn’s fundraising firm Sky Blue Strategies and managed campaign funding for congressman Brad Miller. Investigators say Broyhill was suspected of embezzling money from the business. Prosecutor  Doug Faucette  said Broyhill wrote himself 39 checks, and embezzled nearly $50,000.

“The defendant on April 22, 2013 relentlessly attacked Jamie with a 8 inch chefs knife when they met at her house to discuss some unresolved financial issues about a Sky Blue client,” said Faucette.

Caroline Elliot, Broyhill’s attorney, said that he had no motive to kill those who he loved.

“Something snapped. As I said in the beginning this case is a tragedy. It is a tragedy commuted by a sick person who was ready to end his own life, there was never any premeditation,” said Elliot.

The trial is expected to last up to three weeks. If convicted, Broyhill could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.


NC Senate Approves Magistrate Opt-Out Bill

gay_marriageRALEIGH–Some North Carolina court officials could opt out of marriage duties, including same-sex marriages, under legislation given the state Senate’s approval.

The Senate voted 32-16 Wednesday for a bill giving magistrates and some register of deeds workers the ability to remove themselves from the process because of religious objections. The bill comes after federal judges’ in October overturned North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban.

The measure prompted two hours of passionate words in the continuing gay marriage debate. Supporter Buck Newton of Wilson said religious freedom is constitutionally protected and must be upheld for workers even as the state complies with court rulings.

But Sen. Josh Stein of Raleigh said government employees cannot selectively choose which members of the public they serve.


Executive Director of State Employees Association Resigns

RALEIGH—The executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina announced that he is stepping down.

Dana Cope announced the decision Tuesday afternoon. The decision comes after the Wake County District Attorney requested the SBI look into allegations of financial improprieties.

Cope has come under scrutiny this week about questionable spending of thousands of dollars of SEANC funds and personal use of the organization’s credit card. The executive committee said in a statement that internal investigations showed no wrongdoing or misuse of funds.

However, the Wake County District Attorney has asked the SBI to conduct a formal inquiry into the situation, looking for any possible criminal activity. Cope said he has paid everything he owes and no Association money has been used to pay for work on his home.

In a statement, board members said they accept Dana Cope’s resignation with regret.  SEANC has appointed its lobbyist, Mitch Leonard, as interim executive director.

Chapel Hill’s First Black Mayor Remembers Coach Smith

CHAPEL HILL — Howard Lee, Chapel Hill’s first black mayor, says it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the legendary Dean Smith.

The two first met in the 1960s. Lee was a graduate student at UNC and went to a local church where he met Smith.

“I was introduced to him as Dean Smith. I interpreted that to mean that he was an academic dean, and I said ‘Dr. Smith, over what department do you preside?’ And the people standing around thought it was a great joke, and Dean looked at me, only the way he could do it, and said, ‘You’re not from around here, are ya?'” said Lee.

Lee says Smith helped him move into an all-white neighborhood.

“He had connections with realtors in town and so he did open the door for us to have conversations with certain realtors, most of whom didn’t want to show us the house.”

Lee took a huge risk when he ran for Chapel Hill’s first black mayor in 1969. He was narrowly elected but gives Smith much credit.

“He thought highly of me and thought I could do the job. Then [that] certainly that changed a lot of minds.”

Lee went on to serve as state senator. Even after Smith retired, the two stayed in touch.

“He lived a wonderful life. He left a great legacy. And those of who are left behind, should try to learn from that.”

– Chris Williams

Harnett County Leaders to Vote on New Gun Ordinance

LILLINGTON, N.C. — Harnett County commissioners took their first vote on a new gun ordinance last month and are expected to vote again Monday.

Under the proposed ordinance, it would be illegal to shoot a gun:

  • within 500 feet of a school, church, nursing home or daycare facilty
  • on property less than 10,000 square feet or about a quarter of an acre
  • across a public roadway
  • across someone else’s property line without written permission
  • without proper containment or backstop

Violations of the new ordinance could result in a $50 fine.

Some property owners and business leaders say the proposed ordinance goes too far and violates their property rights, but law enforcement and county leaders say many of the proposed regulations are just common sense for public safety.

It only needs a simple majority for approval.

Group Asks ECU Board to Change Name of Aycock Residence Hall

GREENVILLE, N.C. — About 100 people attended a two-hour public forum Monday night at Wright Hall on the East Carolina campus.

The vast majority of current students and alumni are asking ECU’s 13-member board to consider changing the name of Aycock Residence Hall.

Charles Aycock served as governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. He is known for supporting segregation while in office.

One ECU alum says, despite the attention this issue has received, many students on campus are still unaware of the controversy surrounding the former governor.

“Then after they look it up, most of the students will come to the consensus that this is what we want. We want this name to be changed because what minority student wants to lay there head down in a building that’s named after a white supremacist,” says ECU alum Erin Satterwhite.

ECU received a formal request to change the name in July and a committee was formed in November. Since then, the issue has been tabled.

“Some want to move farther then others and that’s fine. We got a lot of research to do still in terms of gathering research,” said ECU board chair Robert Brinkley.

Students say they are asking the board to consider what was said at the public forum and come to a common ground.

“So do it now and be that forefront and positivity for everybody. You see that at Chapel Hill is trying to, you see that Duke is trying to but they haven’t,” said student Sheridan Iroegbu.

Those opposed to changing the name were not available for comment.

Another forum will be held with faculty Tuesday afternoon. The ECU board expects to vote by Feb. 20.

– Dennis Biviano

Raleigh Mayor Shares Ideas for the City at Washington Conference

Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane

RALEIGH — Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is one of nearly 300 mayors from across the country who are in Washington this week for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

It’s a chance for city leaders like McFarlane to discuss their priorities and share ideas.

“You know, one of the great things is talking to other mayors and seeing how they’ve addressed issues that maybe we’re facing,” said McFarlane.

McFarlane says her top priority is maintaining and improving Raleigh’s transportation and transit systems. She says she’s also focused on economic development and improving water quality rules.

This year’s gathering kicks off at a critical time, with a new Republican-controlled Congress under way and just a day after President Obama’s State of the Union address.

The mayor says she sees a few areas of areas of common ground in the president’s speech.

“One thing that jumped out at me was equal pay for the same job. Obviously, as a woman, I think that if you’re doing the same job as a man you should get paid the same thing,” said McFarlane.

She says she also took note of the president’s proposal to make community college free for eligible students.

“We have a great community college system with Wake Tech. Of course, everybody wants to know how are we going to pay for it? That’s the hard part,” said McFarlane.

Mayor McFarlane also says she appreciated the appeal to working families in the president’s State of the Union address.

Later this week, the mayors will head to the White House to meet with Cabinet members and President Obama himself.

– Geoff Bennett

Five Years Later, Smoking Ban Seen As Major Success

CHARLOTTE– At restaurants and bars around North Carolina, the air’s been cleaner—about 89 percent cleaner according to health officials—and free of tobacco smoke.

Friday marks five years of smoke-free dining, starting on Jan. 2nd, 2010, when a new law banned smoking across the state.

“I’ve grown up around–my family smokes. Like everyone in my family,” said Jordan Cluntz, manager at Pizza Peel in Cotswold.

He’s newer to the industry, but Cluntz likes the ban.

He says it’s now a non-issue.

“I feel like it makes the atmosphere better,” he said, “Honestly, most people are pretty good about it. I mean, if they want to smoke, they generally go outside.”

But it’s had a huge impact.

One restaurant owner we spoke with estimates business went up double digits after the ban.

People like Chuck Thomas are more likely to spend money here.

“Maybe slightly limiting somebody’s freedoms. But it’s a place where you’re coming with your family, and you’re eating food, you know. Like, it’s not really a place for cigarettes,” he said.

“We want to do things to save lives… This is probably the most impactful thing we could have done to make that happen,” said Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Marcus Plescia.

Plescia says it’s been a successful experiment in public health.

He credits the ban for 21 percent fewer heart attacks in emergency rooms, and fewer asthma cases in children.

“One of the things we’d really like to look at in Mecklenburg County, is can we make all of our worksites smoke free to tobacco free?”

They do face some opposition on further bans.

A bill stuck in a Senate committee would limit counties’ powers to enact bans.

Though Plescia says Mecklenburg County had few problems banning tobacco on government property, and more companies are banning tobacco at the office.

“I think that’s a sign that even in North Carolina, times have changed. People see this a little differently,” he said.

– Andrew Sorensen

Suspect in Death of Democratic Strategist Pleads Not Guilty

RALEIGH—The man facing charges in the 2013 death of Democratic fundraiser Jamie Hahn pleaded not guilty to all charges in court on Wednesday.

Jonathan Broyhill, 32, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Hahn in her
North Raleigh home last April.

He underwent a mental evaluation a few months ago but his attorney said he doesn’t expect to raise any defense of diminished mental capacity at trial.

Broyhill worked for Hahn’s political fundraising firm, Sky Blue Strategies, and managed campaign funds for former congressman Brad Miller.

His trial is set to begin in February.