RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to extend the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

In June 2020, the governor signed an executive order to create the task force, which was set to expire this December.

“I’m glad to share with you today that I’ll be extending the task force for Racial Equity and Criminal Justice,” the governor said during the task force’s meeting Friday.

He said he plans to sign an executive order next month to extend the task force’s final work into 2023 and 2024.

“Your work has been too important to let this process end, especially when there’s more work to do,” Gov. Cooper said.

It comes as President Biden announced Thursday he will pardon everyone in the U.S. who has been convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law.

In Friday’s meeting, Governor Cooper addressed the president’s announcement, commending the task force’s efforts to meet the issue head-on by recommending in their report last year that simple possession of a small amount of marijuana should not be a crime.

“Law enforcement and the criminal justice system are under-resourced right now, and they should be focused on stopping violent crime, drug trafficking and other threats to safe communities,” the governor said in the meeting. “We also know that a conviction of simple possession can mar people’s records for life, and maybe even prevent them from getting a job.”

The governor said although the General Assembly didn’t pass the task force’s recommendations during the last session, he believes they should.

“North Carolina should take steps to end this stigma,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he has asked lawyers to examine North Carolina law regarding simple possession of marijuana convictions and pardons to determine if there are any actions he and the task force can take.

“In the meantime, while we work to make sure our criminal justice system is fair, we must be laser focused on stopping the true criminals — those who are committing violent crime, and particularly gun violence in our communities,” the governor said. “It has to stop.”

Cooper says he is working with Attorney General Josh Stein, North Carolina Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe and staff to tackle the surge of gun violence.

Now that he has extended the task force, Governor Cooper says it will focus on four main areas in their next phase of work:

  • Violence prevention
  • Local law enforcement practices and accountability
  • Judicial system policies and practices that result in racially inequitable outcomes
  • Collection analysis in public display of criminal justice system data

“I know you’ll continue to make a real impact,” Governor Cooper said to the task force. “There’s no single strategy, but bringing people together will be an important part of the work ahead, and you guys are very good at that.”

On Friday, Governor Cooper also released the following statement addressing President Biden’s pardon:

“Keeping people safe from violent crime while making the criminal justice system fairer is the right thing to do. The President’s actions are in line with North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice I appointed that recommended decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. While the General Assembly has not yet acted on this, I believe it should. We need to end this stigma that can keep people from getting jobs and make sure law enforcement keeps its focus on fighting violent crime, drug traffickers and other threats to safe communities. I have also asked our lawyers to examine North Carolina law regarding simple possession of marijuana convictions and pardons to determine if there is action we can and should take.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper