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Cannabis Laws in North Carolina: What you need to Know

Introduction

The legalization of marijuana has been an issue of great debate across the United States, and North Carolina is no different. If you are interested in this topic, you need to know the current legal landscape and the pending legislation. As part of this article, we will review North Carolina’s cannabis laws, focusing on both passed and pending legislation. A new advocate for hemp products in North Carolina, the Carolina Hemp Coalition, will also be introduced.

Current Legal Status

North Carolina maintains strict marijuana regulations at the moment. Marijuana remains illegal for use, possession, or sale. Nevertheless, certain areas have seen significant progress.

Previous Legislation

Medical Marijuana

In 2022, North Carolina’s State Senate passed the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (SB 711), legalizing medical cannabis for patients with certain qualifying medical conditions. Qualifying medical conditions include:

  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Severe and intractable pain
 

Patients must seek the recommendation of a physician before participating in the medical cannabis program. Patients can register with the North Carolina Medical Cannabis Commission once they have a recommendation and purchase medical cannabis from a licensed dispensary.

The first medical cannabis dispensaries in North Carolina were expected to open in early 2023. However, this legislation was stalled in the State House.

Decriminalization

North Carolina has partially decriminalized cannabis possession. Possession of less than half an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $200. However, possession of more than half an ounce but less than 1.5 ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 45 days in jail. Possession of more than 1.5 ounces is a felony punishable by up to 3-8 months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

CBD and Hemp

The legality of CBD and hemp-derived products is a significant aspect of North Carolina’s cannabis laws. The state allows the sale and use of these products as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Regulations are in place to ensure product quality and consumer safety.

North Carolina passed the North Carolina Hemp Farming Act (SB 328) in 2019, establishing a regulatory framework for the cultivation of hemp in the state. The law allows farmers to grow hemp for a variety of purposes, including fiber, food, and medicinal products.

Pending Legislation

Recreational Marijuana

Recreational marijuana legalization bills are pending in the North Carolina State Legislature. One of these bills, Senate Bill 765 (2023-2024 Session), would legalize and regulate the use, possession, and retail sale of marijuana for adults in the state.

The bill would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or an equivalent amount of marijuana products and grow up to two mature and two immature marijuana plants for personal use. It would also allow adults to share their cannabis without remuneration.

To explore the bill’s content further on this pending cannabis legislation, we urge our readers to consider joining the Carolina Hemp Coalition and reading the text for Senate Bill 765 .

Medical Marijuana Expansion

Efforts to expand the state’s medical marijuana program are also in progress. Proposed legislation aims to broaden the list of qualifying conditions, making medical cannabis more accessible to patients who need it.

House Bill 626 introduced on Apr 18, 2023 was another step from the NC General Assembly to legalize cannabis. The short title, Cannabis Legalization & Regulation, suggested that the legislation would legalize cannabis for the citizens of the State of NC. 

Like with other legislation proposed in recent years in North Carolina, this legislation states “Cannabis prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has been a wasteful and destructive failure. About half of Americans admit to having used cannabis despite more than eight decades of prohibition.”

Much of this legislation overlaps with the proposed legislation from the NC Senate, S345.

Social Equity Provisions

North Carolina recognizes the importance of social equity within the cannabis industry. Pending bills include provisions to address the historical disparities related to cannabis convictions and business ownership. These provisions aim to create opportunities for marginalized communities.

This pathway for legalization is found within the current session’s Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act (S345).

One of the key takeaways from this proposed legislation is the General Assembly finds that cannabis prohibition has been a wasteful and destructive failure, and that regulating cannabis similarly to alcohol will replace the uncontrolled illicit market with a well-regulated system that protects consumers, workers, communities, and the environment. The prohibition of cannabis diverts law enforcement resources from violent and property crimes and subjects civilians to unnecessary police interactions. It also deprives the State of thousands of legal jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

There are, however, oppositional viewpoints to this legislation from many communities.

Taxation and Regulation

Another aspect of pending legislation involves taxation and regulation of cannabis products. These bills outline how the state would oversee the production, distribution, and taxation of cannabis, potentially generating significant revenue.

S3, Edition 3, the NC Compassionate Care Act, was proposed to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina. It would create a system for regulating the cultivation, processing, and dispensing of medical marijuana for qualified patients. S346, Edition 1, the Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act, was a bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana in North Carolina and created a fund to reinvest in communities harmed by the war on drugs.

H626, Edition 1, the Cannabis Legalization & Regulation bill, was introduced in the House and sought to legalize marijuana for adults in North Carolina and establish a system for regulating its cultivation, distribution, and sale. S754, Session Law 2023-113, was a bill that made appointments to various North Carolina boards and commissions, including the NC Industrial Hemp Commission and the NC Medical Care Commission.

S521, Edition 1, the Regulate Cannabinoid Products bill, would have established a regulatory framework for the production and sale of cannabinoid products, including CBD and other hemp-derived products, in North Carolina. This bill aimed to ensure product safety and labeling standards.

Legislation Regarding Hemp

A bill has been introduced in North Carolina to establish a voluntary licensing program for cannabinoid-related compounds.

The bill (Senate Bill 521)  includes provisions for labeling requirements, such as indicating the cannabinoid content per product unit and per serving size. It also requires products to have a machine-readable code that provides access to a certificate of analysis from an independent accredited laboratory.

The bill prohibits the sale of falsely certified cannabinoid-related compounds and sets out the application process for certification of good manufacturing practices. Temporary rules will be implemented by January 1, 2024, with permanent rules to follow by January 1, 2025.

Failed Legislation from Recent Legislative Sessions

Despite efforts to change cannabis laws in North Carolina, many bills related to legalization have failed to pass. In 2019, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to allow for medical marijuana, but it did not make it out of committee. Similarly, a bill introduced in 2017 to legalize recreational marijuana did not gain traction and failed to pass.

The bill related to medical marijuana in 2019 was House Bill 401, “NC Compassionate Care Act”, which was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House, where it did not move forward.

The 2017 bill related to recreational marijuana was House Bill 63, which proposed allowing adults aged 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use and would have allowed for the licensing of marijuana retail stores. It never advanced beyond its initial reading.

Many factors have contributed to the failure of these bills, including political differences and concerns about potential misuse of the drug. Additionally, other legislative priorities have taken precedence over marijuana reform, which has made pushing any reforms more difficult.

For example, the state’s opioid crisis has taken center stage in recent years and garnered significant attention, leading to the passage of several bills related to substance abuse and addiction in North Carolina. The focus on this issue has taken legislative resources away from efforts to legalize marijuana in the state.

Another factor that has contributed to the failure of legislative efforts to legalize marijuana in North Carolina is public opinion. While polls suggest that public support for legalizing marijuana is growing, legislators still face opposition from certain groups and individuals who do not believe that marijuana should be legal for recreational or medicinal use.

In summary, several attempts have been made to pass legislation to support cannabis in North Carolina, but political differences, concerns about potential misuse, and other legislative priorities have hindered these efforts.

Conclusion

As we would expect with the changes in the overall impression of cannabis products, North Carolina’s cannabis laws are evolving, with significant changes on the horizon. It’s essential to stay informed about current legislation, whether it relates to medical marijuana, recreational use, or social equity.

Organizations like the Carolina Hemp Coalition play a crucial role in advocating for legal hemp products and raising awareness about cannabis issues in the state. As the legislative landscape continues to change, it’s vital for North Carolinians to engage in discussions, stay updated, and support.

Legislation from Prior Sessions

2021-2022

 

2019-2020

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