The short answer is: not very. The longer answer is that it depends on what you mean by “legalizing marijuana.”
There’s no denying that the laws surrounding marijuana in our country are changing—and fast.
Today, twenty-three states plus the District of Columbia have laws in place that legalize marijuana in some form. In 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington approved a landmark initiative to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana. In Alaska, adults can possess, purchase, and carry up to an ounce of marijuana and six plants. In Oregon, adults will soon be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public and 8 ounces in their residences. In Washington DC, voters approved a measure that legalizes possession of marijuana in small amounts.
In addition, many states have laws that legalize the medical use of marijuana in certain circumstances, including California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, and Hawaii. Other states have passed legislation allowing the possession and use of cannabis oil to treat certain illnesses.
So where does our state stand? What does the future hold for marijuana laws in North Carolina? While our state may currently be lagging far behind progressive states like Colorado, North Carolina may be on its way to legalizing medical marijuana in the near future.
Currently, possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana in North Carolina is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $200, but no jail time.
This March, North Carolina took a step closer to legalizing medical marijuana when State Rep Kelly Alexander proposed a bill that would allow qualified individuals to use cannabis for medical purposes in our state. The democratic representative filed the bill—House Bill 78— in February, and it faces a few more rounds of approvals before it can be officially passed.
Mr. Alexander believes that the bill has a good chance of passing because of increased public support and the lure of increased tax revenue associated with medical marijuana sales. According to recent polls, 70 percent of North Carolina residents support the legalization of medical marijuana to treat certain conditions.
If the bill passes, North Carolina would become the first southeast state to legalize the use of medical marijuana. Mr. Alexander claims that the legalization of the sale and production of marijuana could bring in $100 million in tax revenue for our state.
North Carolina’s Current Marijuana Laws
While the legalization of medical marijuana may be on the horizon, current North Carolina marijuana laws are strict and people are penalized harshly when they violate them.
Under current North Carolina law, marijuana is considered a Schedule IV substance. That means it is a crime to possess any amount of marijuana for any reason, and penalties for possession vary depending on amount possessed, ranging from a $200 for a half ounce or less, to a year in jail and a fine of $500 for possession of more than one and a half ounces.
Similarly, it is illegal to manufacture or sell marijuana in North Carolina, as well as to possess marijuana with the intent to manufacture or sell. Penalties for this crime vary from a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail for 10 pounds or less to a $200,000 fine and imprisonment for 179 months for 10,000 pounds or more.
Under North Carolina law, it is also illegal to possess, manufacture, or sell drug paraphernalia—items used to grow, process, sell, store, or use marijuana. Penalties for this type of crime may include a fine of up to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. If you are found selling drug paraphernalia to a minor who is at least three years younger than you, you may receive an even higher fine and up to six months in jail.
The penalties for marijuana crimes in North Carolina may also vary depending on the existence of a previous criminal record. For instance, if you have been charged with a low-level marijuana crime and you have no existing criminal record, there’s a good change you may be able to have the proceedings suspended with the help of a criminal attorney. In this situation, you may be put on probation and required to complete a drug education program. Once you meet the terms of your probation, your marijuana charges could be dismissed.
Alternatively, if you have a previous drug crime conviction on your record, you face harsher penalties—including prison time and hefty fines. That’s why it’s important to consult with a North Carolina drug crimes attorney if you are facing any kind of marijuana charge, regardless of its severity. With the expert guidance and fierce representation of a skilled attorney, you may be able to have the marijuana charges against you reduced or dropped entirely.
About the Author
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.