North Carolina Marijuana Laws

  1. North Carolina Cannabis
  2. North Carolina Marijuana Laws

Key Points

  • It is illegal to possess both recreational and medical cannabis in North Carolina.

  • North Carolina residents, regardless of age, are prohibited from using marijuana.

  • Marijuana possession below 0.5 ounce in North Carolina is a non-jailable misdemeanor offense which may attract a fine of $200.

  • Cultivating marijuana for any purpose is illegal in North Carolina.

  • Residents who violate North Carolina marijuana laws often get misdemeanor or felony punishments.

Is Marijuana Legal in North Carolina?

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 Caroline 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 Marijuana Laws in 2022

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:

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

  • Cancer

  • Epilepsy

  • HIV/AIDS

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Other debilitating health conditions may be of the same class as those already listed.

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 2012, 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.

Timeline of Cannabis Law in North Carolina

  • 1937: Marijuana became illegal in the US.

  • 1977: North Carolina decriminalized small marijuana possession charges from misdemeanor to civil fine. Rather than serve jail terms, residents convicted of carrying up to 0.5 ounce of cannabis will pay a $200-fine.

  • 2014: The first bill intended to legalize medical marijuana was introduced by North Carolina legislators. Unfortunately, the state's House Committee rejected the bill in 2015 and also issued a report which stopped legislators from considering similar bills for the next two years.

  • 2015: After successful passage from the House to Senate, the then Governor signed HB766 into law. With this new law effective from 2016, CBD oil and other low-THC cannabis extracts became legal only for residents with intractable epilepsy. allowing those with intractable epilepsy to use CBD oil. Even with the new law, eligible persons could not buy cannabis extracts legally in North Carolina.

  • 2017: Hemp cultivation began in 2017 thanks to the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. The new program was established after the passing of the 2015 Senate Bill 313, which conformed to the Federal 2014 Farm Bill's provisions for U.S. hemp production.

  • 2021-22: The NC Compassionate Care Act, another bill created to legalize medical marijuana, was introduced by the Senate in 2021. While the bill earned the support of state senators in 2022, it would still need to be passed in the House and signed by the Governor to become law.

Federal Legalization of Weed in 2022

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:

  • Lack of financial services accessibility.

  • Federal tax returns on marijuana establishments.

  • Absence of uniform federal administrative regulations and standards.

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:

  • Remove cannabis from the illicit drugs list in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

  • Eliminate cannabis-related federal offense penalties.

  • Expunge previous marijuana convictions.

  • Permit other states to develop their own regulatory frameworks free from federal interference.

  • Prevent non-citizens from suffering immigration consequences as a result of using and possessing marijuana.

  • Stop federal organizations from refusing qualified applicants access to school loans, government benefits, or jobs because they consume marijuana.

  • Support community social services that have been impacted by the protracted war on drugs through a federal excise tax of 5% on marijuana sales.

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.

Can I Use Cannabis?

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.

How the Legal Sale of Cannabis in North Carolina happens

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.

Penalties for Marijuana-related Crimes in North Carolina

Under the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule VI substance. Schedule VI substances are substances that:

  • Are not currently accepted for medical use in the United States

  • Have a relatively low potential for abuse in relation to public health risk

  • Have the potential to produce psychic or physiological dependence liability

  • Need further research to develop scientific evidence of their pharmacological effects.

North Carolina laws prohibit the following marijuana-related activities:

  • Possession for personal use

  • Possession with intent to distribute

  • Sale or delivery

  • Cultivation

  • Hash and Concentrates

  • Paraphernalia

  • Driving with impairment

Possession of Marijuana for Personal Use in North Carolina

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.

Possession with Intent to Distribute in North Carolina

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.

Sale or Delivery of Marijuana in North Carolina

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.

Cultivation of Marijuana in North Carolina

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.

Marijuana Paraphernalia in North Carolina

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.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in North Carolina

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):

  • Level One Punishment

    • A fine of up to $4,000;

    • Between a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 24 months imprisonment (the imprisonment term may be suspended if a special probation condition is imposed, ensuring that the offender serves at least 30 days in prison);

    • The offender may have to complete a substance abuse assessment.

  • Level Two Punishment

    • A fine of up to $2,000;

    • Between seven days and 12 months imprisonment (the imprisonment term may be suspended if a special probation condition is imposed ensuring that the offender serves at least seven days in prison);

    • The offender may have to complete a substance abuse assessment.

  • Level Three Punishment

    • A fine of up to $1,000;

    • Between 72 hours and six months imprisonment (this may be reduced to 72 hours imprisonment and 72 hours of community service);

    • The offender may have to complete a substance abuse assessment.

  • Level Four Punishment

    • A fine of up to $500;

    • Between 48 hours and 120 days imprisonment (48 hours of community service can be served instead of the term in prison);

    • The offender may have to complete a substance abuse assessment.

  • Level Five Punishment

    • A fine of up to $ 200

    • Between a minimum of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days imprisonment (this term may be reduced to 24 hours imprisonment and 24 hours of community service)

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.

Additional Limitations

  • North Carolina has special rules governing offenses involving hash or other marijuana concentrates. Possession of up to 0.05 ounces (1.4 grams) is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to a $200 fine and one to ten days imprisonment. Possession of 0.05 ounces to 0.15 ounces (4.25 grams) is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by one to 45 days imprisonment and a discretionary fine. Having over 0.15 ounces is a Class I felony with a presumptive sentence ranging from four to six months and a discretionary fine decided by the court.

  • Marijuana consumption is prohibited in public and private places. Consumption on the premises close to school and kiddies playgrounds may attract further punishments.

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.

Possible Remedies for Violators of North Carolina Marijuana Laws

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:

  • False arrest.

  • Illegal seizure and search.

  • Excessive use of force, which may have led to injuries.

  • Use of verbal commands.

  • Suspicious prosecution.

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.

What is North Carolina's Cannabis History?

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, and House Bill 617.

What are Restrictions on Cannabis in North Carolina?

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:

  • Possession of marijuana for personal use

  • Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute

  • Sale or delivery of marijuana

  • Cultivation of marijuana

  • Hash and Concentrates

  • Marijuana paraphernalia

  • Driving while impaired by marijuana.

North Carolina Marijuana Laws