North Carolina is one of the remaining few states where cannabis is still illegal. It does have a CBD law, but even that is extremely narrow in focus and a bill to legalize medical cannabis died last year.
H 401, which was introduced in March 2020, failed to get support that it needed in the legislature. The bill would have given even non-cardholding patients, caregivers an affirmative defense for possession, and physicians protection from arrest. It would have also created entities necessary for the research, production, and sale of medical marijuana.
Unfotunately, voters can’t place measures on the ballot in North Carolina, so their only recourse would be to pressure lawmakers to introduce an amendment for home cultivation, which often takes longer. But both external and internal pressure to legalize is steadily mounting. In addition to the wave of marijuana legalization sweeping the US, a recent survey also showed that the percentage of North Carolinians who favor recreational cannabis legalization increased by nine points, from 45 to 54 percent, since the last poll back in 2017.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of North Carolina Marijuana Laws
At present, both medical and recreational marijuana is illegal in North Carolina but there had been efforts to decriminalize it in the last few years.
- Possession – Possession of half an ounce or less is now only a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $200 and no jail time. However, more than 0.5 oz to 1.5 oz is punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a fine of up to $1000. Anything more up to 10 oz is already a felony punishable by 3 to 8 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1000.
- Sale/Distribution – If the intent to distribute can be proven, the charge is automatically a felony. This offense is punishable by
- 10 lbs or less – 4 to 8 months imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1000.
- More than 10 lbs but less than 50 lbs – a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 months up to 39 months and a maximum fine of $5000.
- 50 lbs but less than 2000 lbs – a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 months up to 51 months and a maximum fine of $25,000.
- 2000 lbs less than 10,000 lbs – a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 months up to 39 months and a maximum fine of $50,000.
- 10,000 lbs or more – a mandatory minimum sentence of 175 months up to 222 months and a maximum fine of $200,000.
- Within 1000 feet of school, child care center, or park grounds – 1 to 3 years
- Selling to a minor or pregnant woman – 3 to 8 years
- Cultivation – Illegal cultivation is charged by the amount of marijuana involved in the offense and is given the same penalties as sale/distribution.
History of Marijuana in North Carolina
It is strange to see the Old North State lagging in terms of marijuana reforms considering that it moved to decriminalize cannabis as early as 1977. Under HB 1325, incarceration was dropped for first-time possession. However, it was still barely at par with the decriminalization laws of other states during that time since a suspended sentence was possible for a first offense, and the offense carried with it the stigma of a misdemeanor charge.
Efforts stagnated for a long time after HB 1325 and it wasn’t until around 2014 that a significant effort to legalize medical marijuana took place. In June 2014, HB 1220 was passed and was later amended in July 2015 by HB 766. However, the Epilepsy Alternative Treatment Act was notably limited. It only allowed the use of hemp extracts with greater than 5% CBD and less than 0.9% THC on patients with intractable epilepsy upon the recommendation of a neurologist. The hemp extract also had to be acquired from outside of the state and there was no infrastructure established for cultivation or dispensing of medical cannabis which essentially left providers legally vulnerable.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of North Carolina
How do North Carolina marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in North Carolina
No, adult-use cannabis is currently illegal in North Carolina but it has partly been decriminalized.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in North Carolina.
No, medical cannabis is still illegal in North Carolina.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is still not allowed in North Carolina.
H 401, which was introduced last year, would have given the state a medical marijuana program. The bill, unfortunately, died in committee in September 2020.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in North Carolina.
It is completely illegal for anyone to grow cannabis in North Carolina, regardless of age.
The last two years saw the introduction of a number of marijuana-related legislation such as S 58, H 401, H 766, H 409, and S 352. While it is clear that legalization is on its way to North Carolina, recreational use and home cultivation may still take a couple of years to happen. The pressure for a state to legalize is often brought either by a neighboring state that has legalized adult-use, or a rampant black market, neither of which is a problem for North Carolina. This means the only real way to get home growing in a bill would be for constituents to clamor for it.