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. Sadly, North Carolina is one of the remaining 17 states that criminalizes patients who use a far safer treatment option than opioids.
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 is building on the state legislature.
Five years ago, North Carolina took a small step forward, enacting a CBD-focused law for patients with intractable seizure disorders. The law leaves most patients behind and fails 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 to expand 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. However, the bill — S 168 — has not advanced out of committee in the House. Unlike H 401 and comprehensive medical marijuana laws, it also fails to provide any way to safely access medical cannabis preparations, and it only allows between 0.3% and 0.9% THC cannabis, which is less THC than many patients need.
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 weakest 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 make it legal to possess up to four ounces of marijuana. It would also allow for convictions for up to three ounces of cannabis to be removed from a person’s criminal record. A similar bill was introduced in 2018.