STATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PANEL CALLS FOR DECRIMINALIZATION OF MARIJUANA: A panel appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper called Wednesday for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, saying arrests for such crimes disproportionately affect Black residents. The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which is chaired by Attorney General Josh Stein and Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, also called for studying the prospect of further legalizing the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana in the state. "You cannot talk about improving racial equity in our criminal justice system without talking about marijuana," Stein said in a statement. "White and Black North Carolinians use marijuana at similar rates, yet Black people are disproportionately arrested and sentenced."
DEMOCRAT WHO WON JUDGE SEAT IN WAKE COUNTY RULED INELIGIBLE: Tim Gunther, who recently won his race for District Court judge, was ruled ineligible Wednesday after admitting he had never legally resided at his Fuquay-Varina address. The Wake County Board of Elections made its unanimous finding after Gunther’s attorney said the candidate and Democrat had never finishing moving to the house his daughter and ex-wife owned “to a degree that would satisfy the strict legal requirements.” He said he would not protest the complaint from Joan Erwin, who lives in the district and had been a law professor to Gunther’s Republican challenger, Beth Tanner. The board’s decision capped a three-hour meeting that offered details as personal as Gunther’s car being parked in the Cary driveway and a birthday card addressed to him found in the trash.
MAJORITY OF ASHEVILLE TASK FORCE WANTS TO REMOVE ZEBULON VANCE MONUMENT: A majority of task force members appointed to consider the fate of a Confederate monument in a North Carolina city said they support removing it. Nine of the Vance Monument Task Force's 12 members said so ahead of their Thursday vote regarding the monument honoring Zebulon Baird Vance, who served as North Carolina's governor during the Civil War, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported. That vote will serve as a recommendation to the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. The obelisk, made of rough stone blocks, stands more than 50 feet tall, with the name “Vance” carved into its base. It was erected more than 120 years ago by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. “If this monument is left in its original form, rather than completely removed or its materials altered beyond recognition, it will continue to serve as a symbol of white supremacy to those most affected by its presence,” said task force co-chair Oralene Simmons said.
VIEWS ARE MIXED ON TRUMP CUTTING U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN BY HALF: “This seems like political theater to me,” said Bibby, now the national campaigns manager for the liberal veterans group Common Defense. “He’s doing his homework the morning it is due — let me put it that way.” But Lawrence J. Korb, a Vietnam veteran and senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, cheered the decision. He questioned the wisdom of defense officials who, citing a spike in Taliban violence and other factors, have recommended keeping as many as 5,000 troops in Afghanistan. “If you say you’re conditions-based, you could be there forever,” said Korb, a former Pentagon official. “I think the key thing is you have to recognize: You’ve got to leave. The question is, at what pace?” Rep. Adam Smith (D.-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he had spoken with new acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and believes that “reducing our forward deployed footprint in Afghanistan down to 2,500 troops is the right policy decision.” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) addressed the issue on a bipartisan basis in a letter to the Pentagon. As veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the two lawmakers said they have “grave concern” about the cut and asked how it will be handled. In Washington, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, a former top commander in Afghanistan and past critic of Trump, described the cuts as politically motivated and said there was no tactical, operational or strategic benefit to them. “We question whether this was to fulfill a campaign promise or to foreclose options for the Biden administration,” Allen said, speaking at an event organized by the Soufan Center, a nonprofit focused on security issues. “There’s no merit to this. None.”
MONEY IS FLOODING INTO GEORGIA'S TWO U.S. SENATE RUNOFF ELECTIONS: The two Georgia runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate, and much of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s ability to enact a Democratic agenda, are already drawing enormous sums of cash, with more than $125 million pouring into the state in only two weeks. The two Democratic challengers, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, have each raised huge amounts since Nov. 3, with Dr. Warnock collecting around $40 million and Mr. Ossoff a little less than that, according to two people familiar with their fund-raising hauls. The Senate arm of the Republican Party and the two Republican incumbents, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, announced they had pulled in $32 million in just the first six days after the election. And Ms. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of Congress who spent $23 million of her own money to make the runoff and can inject millions more at a moment’s notice, has already booked $40 million in television time. Super PACs on both sides are racing to lock up a shrinking supply of television airtime as ad rates in the Atlanta market skyrocket, with prices this week already higher than in some of the top presidential battlegrounds in October. Unrelenting waves of negative ads have already begun. Roughly $135 million has already been booked in television spending during the nine-week sprint — even as some of the biggest expected spenders have not yet reserved time beyond the next week. Ms. Loeffler alone has about $40 million reserved, so far mostly attacking her opponent, Mr. Warnock. “The commercials are running nonstop 24/7 on all the stations,” said Michael Thurmond, a Democrat and the chief executive of DeKalb County in the Atlanta area. “But what’s different is what you can’t see yet and you can feel: that the armies are being built, the resources are being stored up, you can feel the anticipation and excitement.”