No, marijuana is illegal for medical or recreational purposes in North Carolina. Under North Carolina law, the possession of less than 0.5 ounces of marijuana or 0.2 ounces of hash is a Class 3 misdemeanor. This act is punishable by a fine of up to $200. However, possession of larger amounts of marijuana attracts more severe punishments in the state.
According to the Epilepsy Alternative Act 2014, amended by HB 766 in 2015, North Carolina only permits patients with intractable epilepsy to use CBD extract (hemp extract) to treat their medical conditions. This hemp extract must comprise less than 0.9% THC and at least 5% CBD with no psychoactive substances. Patients must register with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Registration permits patients and their caregivers to possess hemp extract obtained outside state lines legally.
It should be noted that marijuana, like other psychotropic substances, is still prohibited under federal law. As a result, it is unlawful for residents to use it in federally controlled public locations.
North Carolina is yet to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational use. However, on June 30, 2022, the state Governor signed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2022 to legalize hemp and all CBD-infused products. This new law is in line with the US Farm Bill in 2018 which removed hemp from the DEA's Controlled Substance List and defined it as a cannabis product with less than 0.3 THC. Hemp and marijuana are both derivatives of cannabis but contain different components. While hemp contains the non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD), marijuana contains the intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Now that the state has legalized hemp, lawmakers have doubled their effort to propose bills that would decriminalize marijuana and legalize its use for medical and recreational purposes.
In March 2021, House Bill 290 was introduced to make certain drug offenses infractions. This bill seeks to reclassify the possession of marijuana or hash and marijuana drug paraphernalia as infractions. It intends to make them punishable by a fine of up to $100 only.
In April, Senate Bill 711 (SB 711) was introduced before the legislature. It is proposed to be the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act. This bill seeks to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes and establish a medical marijuana program in the state. Under the bill, a qualified patient suffering from a debilitating medical condition may use medical cannabis. It defines debilitating health conditions to include:
SB 711 will also establish a medical marijuana registry program. A medical marijuana card (MMJ card) is issued to a qualified registered patient, allowing them to purchase medical cannabis products. Before the patient can register, the physician must write a formal certification stating that the patient has a qualifying medical condition. The patient and the physician issuing the written certificate must have a genuine physician-patient relationship. Also, a primary caregiver may be assigned to minor patients or a qualified adult patient. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will be in charge of the medical marijuana program. While the bill is still under consideration, the Governor signed Senate Bill 448 into law in June 2022. With the new legislation, residents can use only FDA-approved drugs which contain marijuana.
House Bill 617 was also introduced in April 2021 to legalize and regulate cannabis in North Carolina. It seeks to legalize the possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana, 15 grams of concentrates, and cultivation of 6 marijuana plants for personal use by persons aged 21 years and older. It prohibits public smoking of marijuana and consuming cannabis while driving. The bill also seeks to authorize the regulation of a commercial marijuana market. The provisions will facilitate the automatic expungement of past convictions for any offenses made legal under the bill.
House Bill 617 will be regulated by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS). It will establish an Office of Social Equity within the DPS to promote participation by those from communities that have previously been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition and enforcement to impact those communities positively.
In April 2021, Senate Bill 646 and House Bill 576 were proposed to establish the Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act. Their provisions are largely similar to House Bill 617. They seek to legalize and regulate marijuana use in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Senate passed a medical marijuana bill (S3) on March 1, 2023 with a vote of 36-10. However, the bill is still waiting for a vote in the state’s House of Representatives. On April 17, some legislators in the House sponsored House Bill 626 to push the legalization of cannabis in the state. However, the bill has only passed first reading and is currently stalled.
More states in the US are beginning to create their own laws to regulate marijuana use even though cannabis remains illegal according to federal laws. Both the Senators and House members have made separate efforts to remove marijuana from the 1970 Controlled Substance Act and legalize its use. In 2021, the US Senate introduced a marijuana legislation bill named, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The two major aims of the CAO Act is to decriminalize and deschedule marijuana from the DEA’s Drug Scheduling System. In addition to these two objectives, the Act will solve other problems faced by states that have already legalized weed. Some of these problems include:
If enacted into law, the bill will promote inclusion and diversity among licensed business owners in supervised cannabis markets and designates cash to be reinvested in regions that have been unduly disadvantaged by the War on Drugs.
Although adult-use marijuana is now legal in North Carolina and 18 US states, it is still prohibited at the federal level. In 2018, the US Farm Bill legalized use and cultivation of low-THC cannabis, also known as hemp. A year later, the US House of Representatives presented the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in a bid to legalize recreational and medical marijuana. The 2019 MORE Act was passed by the House in 2020 but failed to gain approval from the Senate. In 2022, the House moved forward with another MORE Act, which seeks to:
The US President has also helped increase the prospect of federal legalization by issuing a marijuana reform executive order in October 2022. The executive action will pardon persons convicted of simple marijuana possession and other states to carry out similar state pardons. President Biden also asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how cannabis is scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.
No. North Carolina does not permit the use of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. Depending on the weight, the possession of cannabis is a violation of state laws. It attracts penalties, including fines and prison sentences. The state authorizes patients with intractable epilepsy to use CBD extract with less than 0.9% THC and at least 5% CBD to treat their condition. The state does not restrict how much a patient can consume.
The present illegality of cannabis in North Carolina is similar to that of the United States. Marijuana is described as a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). However, the attitude of Americans towards cannabis has largely changed. This is primarily because of the migration of many Mexicans to the United States during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Marijuana use became illegal in the United States through the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act 1937. However, several states have gradually eased marijuana possession laws and further legalized marijuana use. As of July 2021, 18 states have permitted recreational marijuana use, and 29 states allow marijuana use for medical purposes. However, North Carolina has not legalized marijuana use for either medical or recreational use.
North Carolina does not permit the sale of cannabis in the state. It also does not allow the sale of hash, concentrates, or marijuana paraphernalia. In addition, the state does not provide access to CBD extracts for patients registered under its Epilepsy Alternative Treatment program. However, these patients are permitted to purchase hemp extract from states that offer reciprocity.
Under the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule VI substance. Schedule VI substances are substances that:
North Carolina laws prohibit the following marijuana-related activities:
Possessing less than 0.5 ounces of marijuana in North Carolina is a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $200. North Carolina marijuana possession laws also include class 1 misdemeanor charges for carrying between 0.5 and 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Such charges may attract one to 45 days imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000. Having more than 1.5 ounces to 10 pounds of marijuana is a Class 1 felony attracting three to eight months jail time and a fine of up to $1,000.
Generally, the possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in North Carolina is a felony offense. Possessing less than 10 pounds of marijuana with the intent to distribute is a Class I felony. This offense is punishable by three to eight months imprisonment and a discretionary fine for a first-time offense. Possessing between 10 pounds and 50 pounds is a Class H felony that attracts 25 months to 39 months in jail and a fine of up $5,000. It is a Class G felony to possess 50 pounds or more but less than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. This crime is punishable by 35 months to 51 months jail sentence and up to a $25,000 fine. Possessing up to 2,000 pounds but less than 10,000 pounds is a Class F felony that attracts between 70 months and 93 months imprisonment and up to a $50,000 fine. Possessing marijuana weighing 10,000 pounds or more attracts a minimum penalty of 175 months in prison and a maximum of 222 months. It will also attract a fine of $200,000.
It is a felony to sell or deliver marijuana in North Carolina. Although delivering less than 5 grams of marijuana for no money is not deemed a sale or delivery, it might result in violation against North Carolina marijuana distribution laws. For the first offense, selling less than 10 pounds of marijuana is a Class H felony punishable by 4 to 8 months in jail and a fine. Also, for a first offense, delivering less than 10 pounds without pay is a Class I felony punishable by 3 to 8 months in prison and a discretionary fine.
It is a Class H felony to sell or deliver 10 pounds or more but less than 50 pounds of marijuana. This offense is punishable by 25 months to 30 months in prison and a fine of not more than $5,000. The sale or delivery of anything between 50 pounds and 2,000 pounds is a Class G felony punishable by 35 months to 42 months imprisonment and up to $25,000. The sale or delivery of 2,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds of marijuana is a Class F felony punishable by up to $50,000 and jail time between 70 to 80 months. Furthermore, selling or delivering marijuana weighing at least 10,000 pounds or more is a Class D felony punishable by 175 months to 219 months imprisonment and up to $200,000.
The sale or delivery of marijuana to a minor or a pregnant woman is a felony that attracts a prison sentence of three to eight years. A minimum of one year in prison and a maximum of three years in jail is imposed for selling or delivering within 1,000 feet of a school, child care center, or public park.
Generally, the cultivation of marijuana is a felony in North Carolina. For a first-time offense, cultivating less than 10 pounds of marijuana is a Class I felony punishable by three to eight months in prison and a discretionary fine. Cultivating over 10 pounds but less than 50 pounds of marijuana is a Class H felony punishable by 25 months to 30 months imprisonment and up to $5,000. Cultivation of marijuana weighing between 50 pounds and 2,000 pounds is a Class G felony punishable by up to a $25,000 fine and around 35 months to 42 months imprisonment.
It is a Class F felony to cultivate between 2,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds. This is punishable by 70 to 80 months imprisonment and up to a $50,000 fine. Cultivating more than 10,000 pounds of marijuana is a Class D felony punishable by a minimum of 175 months in prison to 219 months in prison and a fine of up to $200,000.
For a first-time offense, the use, possession, sale, delivery, or production of paraphernalia is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by one to 45 days in prison and a discretionary fine. For a first-time offense, delivering paraphernalia to a minor under 18 years is a Class I felony punished by three to eight months in jail and a discretionary fine.
Per North Carolina General Statutes § 20-138.1(a), an impaired driving offense occurs when a person drives a vehicle on any highway, street, or public vehicular area in the state while under the influence of an impairing substance. The punishment for driving with impairment in North Carolina is based on "levels." Each level is decided based on various factors, including reckless driving, having a child in the car, harm caused, driving record, or prior offenses. The five levels of punishment for driving with impairment in North Carolina are provided under North Carolina General Statutes Annotated § 20-179(g) - (k):
In addition to the aforementioned, any marijuana crime involving a minor is a felony with a minimum sentence of eight months in jail and a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Possession of cannabis in a correctional facility is a felony punishable by an additional four to eight months in jail.
Note that law enforcers can seize properties of persons caught violating North Carolina marijuana trafficking laws. According to NC General Statutes § 90-112(a), items that may be subject to confiscation of assets include cash, equipment, records, books, vehicles, or houses connected to the criminal offense.
Generally, the criminal charges for violating North Carolina marijuana limitations often depend on the amount of marijuana owned. Getting a reduced marijuana charge is possible especially for defendants working with a qualified lawyer. Many defendants often get lesser charges if they can prove that the arresting officer violated their rights. In the process of investigating residents, some law enforcement agencies often abuse residents’ constitutional rights. Examples of these abuse includes:
Other possible remedies for defendants of violating North Carolina marijuana laws involve seeking drug diversion programs in counties where such an option is available. Examples of these programs include the conditional discharge 90/96, felony drug diversion, and drug & alcohol education programs. Each diversion program has unique eligibility requirements for defendants. Common requirements include pleading guilty to the marijuana charges, attending regular drug education classes, and completing a specified hours of community service. Generally, drug diversion programs are mostly for first-time offenders convicted of nonviolent marijuana charges. Defendants who complete these programs may have their marijuana charges dismissed.
North Carolina first decriminalized marijuana in 1977. It reduced the punishment for possessing 0.5 ounces or less of marijuana to a maximum fine of $200. In May 2014, a medical marijuana measure was introduced. However, it was rejected by a House Committee in 2015. The House Committee also issued an "unfavorable report," thus prohibiting the House from debating proposals containing medical marijuana provisions for the next two years.
Also, in 2014, North Carolina passed HB 1220 — Epilepsy Alternative Treatment Act, which gives patients with intractable epilepsy access to low-THC hemp extract. In July 2015, the Act was amended by HB 766. This amendment increased the allowable amount of THC from 0.3% to 0.9% and reduced the allowed CBD amount from 10% to 5%. It also increased the number of qualified physicians and certified hospitals.
In 2021, there have been several attempts to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. As of July 2021, the majority of these bills have passed the first reading stage, including House Bill 290, Senate Bill 711, House Bill 617, and House Bill 626. The bill with the highest chance of legalizing a form of cannabis in North Carolina is Senate Bill 3. It proposes medical marijuana legalization and received a favorable vote in the Senate but it is currently getting resistance at the House.
The majority of the restrictions on cannabis in North Carolina are drawn from the state's prohibition of the substance. Residents cannot use cannabis for recreational or medical purposes. To enforce this, the state enacted laws restricting the following: