We ❤️ Weed. Our Politicians Don’t.

Today in 8 minutes: Virginia legalizes pot, so we'll buy it there + Charlie Reece is not a cat + vaccines find white arms + DPS students flunk + the Trump prosecution rests

Friday, Feb. 12,  2021 

TGIF …  Today is going to be, well, miserable. Cold and raining, with a high around 40. Then more rain overnight. And tomorrow. And forever, probably. 

Image of the Day

Charlie Reece (upper right, God love him) showed up to yesterday’s virtual Durham City Council budget retreat like so:

Today’s Number: 69

  • Percentage of Durham residents who said they were satisfied (43%) or very satisfied (26%) with the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the new annual survey of Durham County residents.  

  • Nationwide, 37% of people expressed satisfaction with their city’s performance. 

  • 68% of Durham County residents said they were satisfied with the pandemic response of the state government; 65%, the county government; 50%, Durham Public Schools; and 21%, the federal government. 

The survey has more to dig into. I plan to do that next week. For now, two toplines: 

  • 83% rated the city as an excellent or good place to live. 

  • 76% said they were satisfied with the quality of life in their neighborhood.

  • You can watch the survey presentation — in the first hour or so of the city’s budget retreat — below. 

On This Day 

  • 1554: After being Queen of England for nine days, Lady Jady Grey was executed for treason. 

  • 1793: The U.S. passed its first fugitive slave law. 

  • 1795: Hinton James became the first student to enter the University of North Carolina. James was the only student on campus for the first two weeks of the school year. He later became a state legislator and mayor of Wilmington. 

  • 1878: Harvard baseball player Frederick Thayer patented the catcher’s mask. 

  • 1909: The NAACP formed. 

  • 1912: Robeson County established the first rural health department in the U.S.

  • 1955: President Eisenhower sent the first U.S. adviser to South Vietnam. 

One Year Ago 

The New York Times, Feb. 12, 2020, A1: “Prosecutors Quit Roger Stone Case After Justice Dept. Intervenes on Sentencing

  • What happened: Senior DOJ officials overruled prosecutors to seek a more lenient sentence for the president’s buddy. 

One Century Ago

The New York Times, Feb. 12, 1921, p. 7: “600 Are Arrested in Raid on Dance

  • The (pure-copaganda) story: NYC had a law barring “indecent dancing,” and the NYPD got wind that the Majestic Social Club was hosting a “smoker and ‘sociable’” that “would be the most daring entertainment ever attempted in New York.”

  • So two detectives scored tickets “with much difficulty,” as the tickets were “guarded carefully from the public.” They went inside, drank fake hooch — this was during Prohibition — and finally decided that they’d seen enough to call in the paddy wagons. 

  • The cops arrested the owner and seven performers — five women and two men — for indecent dancing and 600-odd spectators for disorderly conduct. The Roaring Twenties, indeed. 

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1. While Virginia Legalizes Weed, North Carolina Will Watch Cash Go Up in Smoke

The year before North Carolina legalized the lottery, Virginia’s top-10 lottery retailers were on the state line, and Tar Heels accounted for about 10% of Virginia’s lottery sales. When the General Assembly capped beer at 3.2%, our less prudish neighbors reaped the benefits. So with Virginia about to become the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana, what do you think is about to happen? 

  • Specifically: How much of VA’s projected $300 million-a-year tax haul will come from folks driving 45 minutes north? 

  • Winston-Salem Journal columnist Scott Sexton: “Head-in-the-sandism, for want of a better term, has been a feature of North Carolina politicians for generations, particularly as applied to governmental regulation of vice. Legislating morality — or at least appearing to do so — has long been a political winner for state politicians.” 

  • Eventually, money wins: “Anyone care to wager how long it might take — or how many millions of tax (and tourism) dollars — before North Carolina politicians wise up?” Sexton asks. 

It’s not like legalization is unpopular here. A new poll from Elon University finds that 54% of North Carolina residents support full legalization, and 73% think medical marijuana should be legal. Only a quarter believe using weed is immoral or a gateway drug. 

  • On few issues is state policy so disconnected from public opinion.  

  • State Republicans led weed bills die in legislative committees. Top Dems — including AG Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper — support decriminalization, but not legalization.

  • The state doesn’t allow ballot initiatives, which means legalization depends on the ultra-conservative General Assembly. 

  • NC NORML consultant Janis Ramquist optimistically told the N&O: “I think that the General Assembly is beginning to become aware of how much the public really wants to have access to medical cannabis.” 

  • The more telling line came from Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll: “Unless a member of the General Assembly is in a very conservative, extremely religious district, they’re not likely to lose votes for supporting it.”

  • They’re also unlikely to gain votes for supporting pot. And in most districts, the primary is the only race that’s competitive — which means for many Republicans, their electorate is, in fact, very conservative. 

Related: Thom Tillis told a constituent he opposes legalization but is (sort of) open to medical marijuana. 

2. The Racial Disparities in NC’s Vaccine Rollout

Blacks and Hispanics in North Carolina are receiving the COVID vaccine at rates far below that of whites, the Charlotte Observer (via the N&O) reports. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that people of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the entire pandemic. But the numbers are startling nonetheless. 

  • Black people are underrepresented in at least 77 of the state’s 100 counties.

  • Hispanics are underrepresented in 93 counties — including in 26 of the 27 counties where Hispanics account for 10% or more of the population. 

  • Whites are overrepresented in some of the major metros, including Durham, Mecklenburg, and Guilford. 

  • In Wake County, Blacks make up 20% of the population but 12% of those who’ve received the vaccine. 

  • In Durham County, Blacks make up 36% of the population but 21% of those who’ve received a vaccine. 

  • Blacks comprise 22% of the state’s population but only 18% of those vaccinated last week. That’s an improvement from 11% the week before. 

  • Possible reasons: lack of information about or access to transportation to vaccination events; distrust over vaccines in minority communities; more whites in groups eligible for vaccines. 


  • The first case of the South African COVID variant has been discovered in North Carolina. (N&O)

  • A UNC professor says that because of the variants, people who receive the vaccine may need booster shots. (CBS 17)

  • The pandemic has prompted legislation to increase funding for public health, which the General Assembly has long ignored. (WRAL)

  • We all assumed this — right? — but Donald Trump was much sicker with COVID than the White House let on. (NYT)


3. DPS Students Flunking at Alarming Rates

More than 55% of Durham middle-school students and nearly 43% of high-school students failed at least one class in the first quarter of the school year, the N&O reports. The failure rates increased across all demographics but especially among children of color. Among middle schoolers: 

  • 44% of Blacks failed at least one class in Q1, compared with 33% last year. 

  • 56% of Hispanics, compared with 37.5% last year. 

  • 20% of whites, compared with 11% last year. 

  • 53% of exceptional children, compared with 38% last year. 

  • 67% of ESL students, compared with 44% last year. 

Black, Hispanic, exceptional, and ESL students are also missing school more often than they did in 2019–20. 

  • 29% of Black high schoolers missed at least four days in the first quarter, up from 18.6% in Q1 of the previous year. 

  • 30% of Hispanic high schoolers missed at least four days, double the year prior. 

  • 37% of ESL high schoolers missed at least four days, compared with 18.7% last year. 

  • Exceptional high schoolers were also absent more often — 31% compared with 20%. 

  • White high schoolers were the only deviation from the rule: 9% this year, compared with 10.5% last year. 

It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on. Remote learning exacerbates inequality. 

  • “A report from the Economic Policy Institute … found that online learning and teaching are effective only if students have consistent access to the internet and computers and if teachers have received targeted training and support for online instruction.” 

  • “A recent analysis from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company shows that the pandemic has widened existing racial and socioeconomic disparities in education. By the end of the academic year, students of color could lose a full year of math learning compared to nine months for white students.” (NC Health News)

Republicans in the General Assembly have been pushing to return kids to the classroom for months. Teachers have pushed back, arguing that an unchecked pandemic could risk their lives. Yesterday, the state House passed a bill that would force school districts to reopen

  • Cooper is likely to veto. But enough Democrats might vote with Republicans to override the veto. 

  • The state will begin vaccinating teachers on Feb. 24, allaying some of the teachers’ concerns. 

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4. GoTriangle Shows Off Plans for Union Station Phase 2

GoTriangle says it will break ground on the second phase of Union Station next year, with construction completed by mid-2025 (which, in government-speak, probably means sometime around 2030). New renderings from the designer, Perkins Eastman, show two 10-story towers coming out from the building’s base and facing each other. (They’ll secure zoning to go as high as 40 stories.) 

  • One will have 165 residential units, 30% of which will be affordable, meaning they’ll be set aside for those who earn 80% or less of the area median income. 

  • The other will have a 260-room hotel. 

  • There will be a plaza between them. (N&O, WRAL)


  • Two people have been charged with killing Brittany Smith, the 28-year-old pregnant woman who was found stuffed in a suitcase that was thrown in the Neuse River. (N&O)

  • Chabad at Duke Undergrads bought The King’s Daughters Inn in a bankruptcy auction for about $3.1 million. The inn shut down last summer during the pandemic, though its parent company had filed for bankruptcy in 2018. (TBJ, sub. req.)

  • Instacart has started accepting food stamps from North Carolina residents ordering from EBT SNAP-eligible food from Food Lion. (Axios CLT)

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5. House Managers Rest Impeachment Case

House managers rested their case against Donald Trump yesterday, emphasizing that the rioters came to Washington at Trump’s invitation and believed they were acting at his behest. Convicting Trump, they argued, was the only way to prevent another violent insurrection. 

  • Rep. Diana DeGette: “Impeachment is not to punish but to prevent. We are not here to punish Donald Trump. We are here to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit.”

  • Rep. Ted Lieu: “You know, I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”

Republicans were not moved — even by the fact that Trump attacked Vice President Mike Pence on Twitter right after learning that Pence’s life was in danger

  • Sen. Mike Rounds: “I think that was a very powerful statement on [Lieu’s] part. And I know I wrote that down. I know a number of my colleagues did. But once again, the issue for most of us is are you asking us to do something that we simply don’t have the capability of doing because the Constitution does not give us that tool with regard to a private citizen.”

  • That’s simply not true

  • There are consequences for not holding Trump accountable: two-thirds of Republicans say Biden’s election was illegitimate, and 39% of Republicans say violence may be necessary to achieve political goals. (NPR)


  • A Gaston County man was charged with threatening to kill President Biden. He dared the Secret Service to stop him and told them that threats were protected by the First Amendment, which, well, nope. (Charlotte Observer via N&O)