New year brings new hope for medical cannabis in North Carolina
Last update: January 9, 2019
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 32. Sadly, North Carolina is one of the remaining 18 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. And several of the lawmakers were newly elected in November.
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, three different bills were introduced in North Carolina to protect North Carolinians with a variety of serious medical conditions and doctors’ recommendations from arrest and prosecution for using medical marijuana and to provide safe access to medical cannabis — HB 185/SB 648 and SB 579. Unfortunately, none of the bills received a committee vote.
In 2014, North Carolina took a small step forward, enacting a CBD-focused law that leaves the vast majority of potential medical marijuana patients without legal protections. It also fails to provide an in-state source for cannabis extracts. For more information, please see our summary of the law.
Decriminalization and prohibition
North Carolina is one of 23 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 have marijuana prohibition, people of color are disproportionately arrested or cited for marijuana offenses. According to government data compiled by the ACLU, while blacks make up 22% of the population in North Carolina, they account for 50% of marijuana related arrests or citations, despite the fact that whites and blacks use cannabis at similar rates.
On June 1, 2018, Sen. Paul Lowe and cosponsors introduced SB 791, which would have made it legal to possess up to four ounces of marijuana and reduce penalties for larger quantities. It would also have allowed for convictions for less than four ounces of cannabis to be removed from one’s criminal record. The individual would have to file a petition to do so and pay a $100 fee unless they are indigent.
Speak out: If you believe that North Carolina’s law enforcement dollars could be better spent going after violent criminals, write your legislators a letter urging them to legalize marijuana for adults by regulating it like alcohol.
Stay connected: To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in North Carolina, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service, if you haven’t done so already.