North Carolina Cannabis Laws

Is Cannabis Legal In North Carolina?
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StateRecreationalMedical MarijuanaCBD
North CarolinaNo*Restricted UseYes

Federal Law:

Recreational Medical MarijuanaCBD

Is recreational cannabis legal in North Carolina?

No. North Carolina is one of the most conservative states in the country regarding cannabis legalization; recreational adult-use is illegal. But, the government did follow a trend of decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis in 1977, allowing for more lenient penalties. Possession of at most 0.5 oz is punishable by a maximum fine of $200. 

Despite the lack of progress in recent years, after the summer of 2020 with the rise of the BLM movement, the state attorney general pushed for cannabis law reform in the name of racial justice. Also, a recent survey also conducted by Elon University was shown to reiterate that the majority of North Carolina residents want to legalize recreational adult-use. 

Is Medical Marijuana legal in North Carolina?

Yes and No. While full-strength medical marijuana is illegal in North Carolina, CBD oil has been approved for intractable epilepsy patients. The use of CBD oil for epilepsy patients was made legal in 2015, with House Bill 766

Unfortunately, this law did not set up any framework for patients to purchase CBD in the state until the authorization of industrial hemp cultivation via North Carolina’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. The first processing facility for hemp and CBD products were opened in 2017.

Are CBD products legal in North Carolina? 

Yes. Since the passage of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, hemp-derived CBD products are legal under federal law in the United States; as long as they contain at most 0.3% THC. 

Any and all CBD in food and drink is still federally illegal.

North Carolina’s Cannabis Timeline:

1937: The Marihuana (archaic spelling of Marijuana) Tax Act was enacted banning cannabis at the federal level. Medical Marijuana use was still permitted.

1951: The Boggs Act, Sponsored by Hale Boggs and signed into law under President Harry S. Truman, This act set mandatory sentencing and increased punishment for cannabis possession. 

1969: The Marihuana Tax Act is deemed unconstitutional in the landmark Leary v. United States. Timothy Leary, a professor, and activist was arrested for the possession of marijuana in violation of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Leary then challenged the act on the ground that the act required self-incrimination, which violated his Fifth Amendment rights. (The self-incrimination clause provides various protections against self-incrimination, including the right of an individual to not serve as a witness in a criminal case in which they are the defendant, better known as “Pleading the Fifth”.) The unanimous opinion of the court was penned by Justice John Marshall Harlan II and declared the Marihuana Tax Act unconstitutional. Therefore, Leary’s conviction was overturned.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act is enacted (replacing the unconstitutional Marihuana Tax Act). Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, thereby prohibiting its use for any purpose. This act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. 

This legislation created five classifications, with specific qualifications for a substance to be included in each. The substances scheduling (classification) are determined by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, Congress does have the power to schedule or de-schedule substances through legislation. Substance scheduling decisions are based on its potential for abuse, accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and international treaties.

Classification of Controlled Substances:

Schedule I: High potential of abuse, not acceptable for medical use

Schedule II: High potential of abuse, sometimes allowed with “severe restrictions” for medical use

Schedule II: Medium potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule IV: Moderate potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule V: Lowest potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

1977: North Carolina decriminalizes small amounts of possession

1984-1986: Mandatory Sentencing and the three-strikes law were created under the Reagan Administration. This accounts for some of the harshest drug laws created including mandatory 25-year imprisonment for certain drug offenses and the promotion of the death penalty to be used against “drug kingpins”.

1998: House Joint Resolution 117, encouraged by the passing of California’s Prop 215, the House of Representatives passed this measure to support the existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of certain drugs.  

2014: The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment passed in the U.S. House and signed into law prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

2014: A medical marijuana bill was introduced to the state’s legislature in asking for full-strength products. The bill failed, and little action has been made since to expand their medical marijuana program.

2015: North Carolina legalizes the use of CBD oil for patients with intractable epilepsy, with the signing of House Bill 766

2017: North Carolina’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program results in the state’s first hemp cultivation facility producing hemp and CBD products. 

2018: Farm bill legalizes low-THC hemp nationwide and effectively de-schedules hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act. 

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