RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Virginia will join 35 other states in legalizing marijuana. Over the past decade, more than 185,000 people have been arrested for possession of it in North Carolina.

New legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly hopes to change the way pot is policed.

“The Nash County Sheriff’s Office focuses on guns, gangs, and drugs,” said Sheriff Keith Stone.

That’s why Stone said he was initially taken aback when Rep. James Gailliard (D-Nash) signed onto HB290, which seeks to decriminalize up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana.

“I want to take every opportunity I can to keep it out of the community,” Stone said.

“What we’re currently doing clearly isn’t working,” Gailliard said.

Gailliard said he joined 27 other House Democrats supporting the legislation after looking at data showing that Black people were more likely to be charged with possession than their white counterparts.

“We can find a way to address this with a civil offense, or some type of civil penalty so they can perhaps have another opportunity to make something of their lives,” Gailliard said.

“Under no circumstances would I sit here and say that I want it legalized,” Stone said.

Under the proposed law, possession of hash or any type of synthetic marijuana would remain a felony.

“I’m a pastor,” Gailliard said. “I’m not advocating for marijuana usage.”

The hope is that HB290 would also eliminate a backlog in the court system.

CBS 17 asked how close North Carolina could be to joining 36 other states with at least some sort of marijuana legalization.

“We do not need to lessen restraints on something that’s going to cause the demise in our communities,” Stone said.

“We need to study this whole thing from a public health perspective, a public safety perspective, and from a racial equity framework, and say is this right for North Carolina,” Gailliard said.

“It’s something we don’t need to rush into,” Stone added.

IF HB290 is signed into law, it could decriminalize small amounts of marijuana as early as Dec. 1.