North Carolina's marijuana laws lag behind other states
Last update: July 27, 2020
In 2018, voters in three states — Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah — approved compassionate medical cannabis laws, bringing the total number of states with effective medical cannabis laws to 33. Voters in South Dakota, Mississippi, and likely Nebraska will get the opportunity to follow suit this November. Meanwhile, North Carolina is increasingly lonely in its continued prohibition on medical cannabis — a treatment option that is far safer than opiates.
Unfortunately, voters can’t place measures on the ballot in North Carolina. But with more and more states enacting medical cannabis laws, and 80% of North Carolina voters in support, pressure should be building on the state legislature.
On March 20, 2019, 19 cosponsors introduced H 401, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. The bill carried over to 2020, but it was not even given a committee hearing or vote before the legislature adjourned.
Lawmakers may be particularly attuned to the wishes of their constituents, since this is an election year. Let your state lawmakers know you want them to listen to the 80% of voters who support allowing patients and doctors to decide whether to use medical cannabis. Ask your candidate for state House and state Senate where they stand on medical cannabis. (You can find your legislative districts by looking up your current lawmakers here.)
In 2014, North Carolina took a small step forward, enacting a CBD-focused law for patients with intractable seizure disorders — however, it failed to provide an in-state source for cannabis extracts. For more information, please see our summary of the law.
In 2019, the Senate approved a bill — S 168 — which would have expanded the CBD-focused law to include autism, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, mitochondrial disease, and other conditions that failed to respond to at least three other treatment options. It still would not have provided in-state access. In 2020, the bill was completely revised to no longer apply to CBD and to instead make changes related to exceptions to confidentiality for psychiatrists concerning reporting on crimes against juveniles. (Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill over an unintended consequence.)
Decriminalization and prohibition
North Carolina is one of 27 states that have enacted laws to stop jailing those who possess small amounts of marijuana — at least for a first offense. Back in 1977, the legislature approved a significant reduction in penalties, which has been so non-controversial many people don’t even know about it. However, the law is among the worst decriminalization laws in the nation — a suspended sentence is possible for a first offense, and the offense carries the lasting stigma of a misdemeanor charge instead of a civil violation.
In addition, like most states that prohibit marijuana, people of color are disproportionately arrested or cited for marijuana offenses. According to 2018 government data compiled by the ACLU, black people were 3.3 times as likely to be arrested than white people in North Carolina, despite the fact that whites and blacks use cannabis at similar rates.
Senators Paul Lowe, Valerie Foushee, Toby Fitch, and cosponsors introduced S 58, which would have made it legal to possess up to four ounces of marijuana. It would have also allowed for convictions for up to three ounces of cannabis to be removed from a person’s criminal record. Unfortunately, the bill did not even get a hearing during the 2019-2020 legislative session.