On March 14—as the Triangle was just beginning to learn the words “social distancing”—Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and a group of friends enjoyed take-out from Garland. They ordered generously (lamb shank and tandoori poussin) and tipped generously, too, supporting an acclaimed restaurant forced to lay off its serving staff amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

To encourage others to do the same, Baldwin posted a photo of the feast on Twitter. 

Here is what we did tonight to support our local restaurants. Take out from Garland. And we left a 35 percent tip. Please do the same. pic.twitter.com/SI21NAvV8U— Mary-Ann Baldwin (@maryannbaldwin) March 15, 2020

It was a kind, community-minded gesture at a time when the community needed to come together while staying six feet apart. 

But that’s not what made the tweet go viral.  

In the back right corner of the image, some eagle-eyed Twitter users spotted something that, at first glance, doesn’t look like much at all. But when you zoom in—and they did—it was very obviously a vape pen. 

And according to an overwhelming majority of the 646 replies to the tweet as of Wednesday night, that wasn’t just any vape pen.

It was definitely a weed pen. 

Some of the replies blasted Baldwin for being “out of touch,” since the Raleigh Police Department continues “to arrest poor [people] for smoking mids.” 

Indeed, North Carolina is one of just 17 states that prohibit the use or possession of anything but ultra-low-THC cannabis for medical or recreational purposes; possessing more than 1.5 ounces can land you up to eight months in jail.

Others encouraged the mayor to “blaze it, ma’am.”

There’s no way to know whether the pen delivers THC (which is illegal) or CBD (which is not) or nicotine or something else. Nor do we know whether it belongs to Baldwin or another member of her group, or whether she used it. 

The INDY first asked Baldwin about the pen soon after the image surfaced. She declined to comment. We then got distracted by [gestures at everything] and put the issue on the backburner.

Recently, however, it’s caught traction. A website called Marijuana Moment picked it up, and from there it went to Trump fanboy Jeffrey Lord’s website, then to Sean Hannity’s Twitter, then to the UK Independent, which alleged that there was an “uproar” over the image, which we somehow missed. 

So we reached out to Baldwin again on Wednesday. “I have no comment,” she texted.

We’re not that interested in whether Baldwin gets high for the hell of it. But the city she governs is still arresting and citing people—mostly black people—for possessing marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. 

The Raleigh Police Department charged 2,544 people with possessing marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia in 2019, according to data the RPD provided to the INDY on Thursday. More than half of them—55 percent—were charged with possessing less than half an ounce of cannabis, while 43 percent had paraphernalia. Less than 1 percent were charged with a felony. 

Nearly two-thirds of those charged by the RPD for marijuana or paraphernalia possession were identified as black, though blacks comprise just 29 percent of Raleigh’s population

While a weed pen clearly violates North Carolina law, the severity of the crime isn’t entirely clear. 

In November, when CBS 17 got its sweeps-season hackles up about “illegal drug vaping in Wake County,” the Sheriff’s Office said it had seen a spike in THC vape pens over the previous 18 months. In 2018, sheriff’s deputies reportedly arrested six people for possessing THC vape pens like the one (maybe) pictured in MAB’s tweet; in the first 11 months of 2019, they’d arrested 33. 

More interesting, though, was that Sergeant John Moore told the TV station that possession of a THC vape cartridge is considered a felony. 

The law was crafted long before vaping existed, so it’s open to interpretation, UNC professor Phil Dixon wrote last November on the UNC School of Government’s blog.

State law says it’s a felony to possess more than “three-twentieths of an ounce of extracted resin of marijuana.” It’s also a felony “if the controlled substance consists of any quantity of synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol or tetrahydrocannabinols isolated from the resin of marijuana.”

“Is the stuff in wax and cartridges the ‘extracted resin of marijuana’? Or the more serious offense of possessing ‘THC isolated from the resin’? Just regular marijuana?” Dixon writes. “We don’t have any cases on the issue …. Some jurisdictions in North Carolina have charged the felony for possession of a single cartridge, on the apparent theory that it qualifies as isolated THC. I’m skeptical. … My suspicion is that most of these products are extracted resin, not isolated THC.’

When Baldwin launched her mayoral campaign about a year ago, she hinted at relaxing marijuana enforcement when the INDY asked about improving relations between the African Americans and the police. 

MAB: The other thing is, you get kids busted for a little bit of marijuana, where we’re sending people to jail for something that is legal in other parts of the country. Is that really how we should be policing? Are there ways that we can help kids, help young people, instead of just busting them? What are we doing to facilitate conversations in the community between the police? We have a great police department. At the same time, I know that there’s opportunity for improvement. Maybe the role of that civilian board really is as a facilitator.

JCB: So would you ask the police not to arrest people for possession?

That’s where I would need feedback from the police chief. How could we do this in a way that’s sensitive and isn’t … 

JCB: Illegal? 

Illegal. I’m trying to find that balance there. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I can certainly raise the questions.

Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at ltauss@indyweek.com. 

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One reply on “Is That a Weed Pen on Mary-Ann Baldwin’s Counter?”

  1. So, it’s OK for Mayor “Mary Jane” Baldwin and her well connected friends to use drugs while people of color are arrested for the same offense at an alarming rate. Her No comment” is unacceptable. Why did “Indy Week” not follow up on this with more questions? Oh that’s right, she was endorsed by y’all. And, yes we’re all distracted by COVID-19, but Mayor Baldwin and her/your pro development council want to move ahead with controversial projects with little or no public input.

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