Marijuana has been a controversial topic in the United States for decades, and North Carolina is no exception. The Tar Heel State has a complicated history with marijuana laws, ranging from strict prohibition to decriminalization on a small scale. As recent news has come out about the ever-changing landscape of marijuana laws in North Carolina, the North Carolina Senate passed its first stage of a medical cannabis bill, continuing to inch closer and closer to legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
At the law offices of Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas, LLP, our criminal defense attorneys want to keep you informed of your rights when it comes to marijuana use and possession. We are here to not only advise you if you are facing a marijuana drug charge in North Carolina but to keep you updated on what changes are being made to medical cannabis legislation across the state.
A Brief History of Marijuana Laws in North Carolina
As the war on drugs ramped up in the 1980s and 1990s, North Carolina’s marijuana laws remained as tough as ever before. However, in recent years, North Carolina has begun to take steps toward marijuana reform. In 2015, the state passed a law allowing the use of CBD oil for certain medical conditions. Then, in 2019, the state decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for medical use.
While North Carolina has taken some steps toward cannabis reform in recent years, there is still a long way to go. The possession, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana remain illegal, and the penalties for violating these laws can be severe. However, with more and more states legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, it’s possible that North Carolina could follow suit in the coming years.
The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act
The Compassionate Care Act is a proposed bill that would legalize medical marijuana for North Carolinians. The bill was first introduced in March 2021, having moved past its first stage of voting in the NC senate in August 2022. After receiving strong bipartisan support, in January 2023, the senate voted 36-7 to pass its medical marijuana bill.
Who is Affected by the Compassionate Care Act?
The Compassionate Care Act would allow patients with qualifying medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a recommendation from a licensed healthcare provider. The bill outlines a number of qualifying conditions, including cancer, patients who test positive for HIV/AIDS, intractable epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, end-of-life hospice care, and more.
If Passed into Law, How will the Compassionate Care Act Work?
Under the proposed law, patients would be able to obtain medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries, which would be regulated by the state. Patients would be allowed to possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana or equivalent products, and they would be allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use.
The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act is still in the early stages of the legislative process, and it is not yet clear whether it will be passed into law. However, the bill represents a significant step towards legalizing medical marijuana in North Carolina and providing relief for patients who are suffering from serious medical conditions and other traumatic events.
Marijuana Possession Laws in North Carolina
Current laws for the possession of marijuana in North Carolina are still quite strict compared to many other states. Possession of marijuana is currently illegal in the state, and those caught with marijuana can face criminal charges– including potential jail time and fines. Additionally, any charges for the possession or distribution of marijuana will become a part of an individual’s permanent criminal record.
What Are the Penalties for Marijuana Possession in NC?
Here are the details about the possession of weed in North Carolina:
- Possession of up to 1/2 ounce of marijuana is now a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100 under North Carolina law (this change in the law took place in 2019).
- Possession of more than 1/2 ounce of marijuana remains a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a fine of up to $200.
- Possession of 1.5 ounces or more of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to 8 months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Possession of 10 pounds or more of marijuana is a Class H felony punishable by up to 39 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
What Penalties are there for Marijuana Distribution in NC?
When it comes to distributing or dealing marijuana in North Carolina, the state laws are more severe, and the punishments are much harsher. Here is a breakdown of the consequences associated with NC marijuana distribution:
- Distribution of any amount of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to 39 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Distribution of 10 pounds or more of marijuana is a Class H felony offense, punishable by up to 30 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Distribution of 50 pounds or more of marijuana is a Class G felony offense, punishable by up to 42 months in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana
Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana refer to two different types of cannabis use. Medical marijuana is used for medicinal purposes to treat certain health conditions, while recreational marijuana is used for non-medical purposes. Medical marijuana is prescribed by a healthcare provider, and patients typically receive a specific dosage or strain of cannabis that is tailored to their needs. Recreational marijuana, on the other hand, is purchased for personal use and may be consumed in various forms, such as smoking, vaping, or edibles.
While both medical and recreational marijuana come from the same plant, they differ in terms of their intended purpose and use. Additionally, the laws around medical vs recreational marijuana can vary widely depending on the state or country in which they are being used.
Is Recreational Marijuana Use Legal in NC?
When it comes to the current state of marijuana laws in North Carolina, the recreational use of marijuana remains illegal, with no changes to personal use possession laws appearing to change any time soon. However, the decriminalization of marijuana use for medical purposes that was instilled in 2019 continues to make strides in the direction of being made available to patients who receive a prescription from a medical professional.
Opposition to the Medical Marijuana Bill
There are several arguments that have been made against the legalization of medical marijuana. Some of the most common include:
Lack of FDA Approval
Opponents argue that marijuana has not gone through the rigorous testing and approval process required by the FDA for prescription drugs. They suggest that this lack of regulation could lead to patients being exposed to potentially dangerous or ineffective treatments, though to date there is no scientific support for these concerns.
Addiction and Abuse Potential
Critics of medical marijuana contend that the drug has a high potential for abuse and addiction, especially in patients who have a history of substance abuse. The argument is that by allowing medical marijuana, we could, in turn, increase the number of people who become addicted to the drug.
Marijuana contains a psychoactive chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can produce a range of effects on the brain and body. When THC enters the brain, it activates the reward system, which can create a sense of pleasure and euphoria. Over time, repeated activation of the reward system can lead to changes in the brain that contribute to addiction.
It’s important to note, that while weed does have addictive properties, everyone who uses marijuana does not become addicted to it, and its level of addiction is far lesser than other addictive substances. Furthermore, unlike drugs such as meth, heroin, cocaine, or even alcohol, the addictive properties of marijuana do not cause long-term harm to users.
Risks to Public Safety
Some opponents of medical marijuana argue that legalizing the drug could increase the risk of impaired driving, workplace accidents, and other public safety issues. They suggest that allowing people to use marijuana for medical purposes could lead to more widespread use and abuse of the drug, which could create additional public health and safety problems.
It is worth noting that while there are certainly valid concerns and arguments to be made against the medical marijuana bill, many of these issues are still subject to debate and ongoing research. Ultimately, the decision to legalize medical marijuana is a complex one that requires careful consideration of a wide range of factors, including scientific evidence, public opinion, and ethical considerations.
How Can I Get Medical Cannabis in North Carolina?
As of February 2023, North Carolina has not yet legalized medical marijuana on a large scale, so there are no legal steps to obtain medical marijuana in the state aside from those few who have been given access due to their qualifying conditions. Those qualifying individuals can purchase small amounts of THC for their medical treatment plans.
These patients must:
- Be 18 years of age or older (or receive permission from a parent or guardian).
- Have a currently diagnosed qualifying condition.
- Hold an official written certification from a licensed physician.
- Be a resident of North Carolina with proof of residency from a picture ID.
General Steps to Getting Medical Marijuana
When medical marijuana dispensaries are available to medical patients in NC, obtaining medical marijuana will likely involve similar steps to what other states have outlined.
These steps include:
- Check eligibility: Check the eligibility criteria for medical marijuana in your state. Eligibility requirements may vary depending on the state and the medical condition for which you are seeking medical marijuana.
- Obtain a doctor’s recommendation: Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider who is licensed to recommend medical marijuana. This provider will evaluate your medical history, symptoms, and condition to determine whether medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment option for you.
- Register with the state: If you are approved for medical marijuana, you will typically need to register with the state and obtain a medical marijuana card. This card will allow you to purchase and possess medical marijuana legally.
- Purchase and use medical marijuana: Once you have obtained a medical marijuana card, you can purchase medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary and use it according to the dosage and administration guidelines recommended by your healthcare provider.
Are You Facing an NC Drug Offense Charge? Contact Our Marijuana Possession Lawyers Today!
If you are being charged with a criminal drug offense due to transporting medical cannabis across state lines, possessing cannabis for medical or recreational uses, or any other charge related to the possession or distribution of weed, contact our medical cannabis defense lawyers at Kirk, Kirk Law for help with your case.
Call our talented and experienced team of Raleigh drug offense attorneys at (919) 615-2473 or fill out our online contact form to set up a consultation and initial case review.
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