This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. Today we turn to number 29: North Carolina.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. North Carolina has decriminalized the possession of marijuana. Possession of less than 1/2 ounce earns a maximum fine of $200. North Carolina law mandates that any term of imprisonment for this small amount be suspended and that imprisonment cannot be a condition of parole. Possession of 1/2 ounce to 1 1/2 ounce earns up to 45 days in prison and a discretionary fine, capped at $1,000. Possession of over 1 1/2 ounce but less than or equal to 10 pounds earns 3 to 8 months imprisonment and a discretionary fine.
Offenses relating to larger amounts of marijuana are classified as trafficking crimes and result in tougher penalties. Possession of 10-50 pounds earns a sentence of 25-30 months in prison and a minimum fine of $5,000. Possession of 50-2,000 pounds earns a 35-51 month sentence and a $25,000 minimum fine. Possession of 2,000-10,000 earns a 70-93 month sentence and a $50,000 minimum fine. Possession of more than 10,000 pounds of cannabis earns a sentence of 175-222 months in prison and a fine of at least $200,000.
North Carolina does not classify the transfer of less than 5 grams of marijuana for no compensation as a “delivery” or “sale” and it treats that sort of transfer as a possession offense. Selling less than 10 pounds of marijuana earns the seller 4-8 months in prison. Sale or delivery of larger amounts are punished as follows:
- 10-50 pounds earns 25-30 months imprisonment and a minimum $5,000 fine.
- 50-2,000 pounds earns 35-42 months imprisonment and a minimum $25,000 fine.
- 2,000-10,000 pounds earns 70-80 months imprisonment and a minimum $50,000 fine.
- 10,000 pounds or more earns 175-219 months imprisonment a minimum $200,000 fine.
Medical marijuana. North Carolina permits patients with intractable epilepsy to use or possess hemp oil of less than 0.9% THC and at least 5% CBD by weight. Like many other “CBD-only” medical marijuana regimes, a large number of patients who may benefit from medical marijuana are unable to access it. In April, North Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill to expand medical marijuana. As WSOCTV reports, a potential patient provided a compelling story favoring legalization:
Chuck Furr said he has not used his wheelchair in about three years ever since he got off prescription pain killers to help treat the side effects of multiple sclerosis.
“It wasn’t as good as God’s natural medicine,” Furr said. “You can’t compete with natural.” [. . .]
“This is my home,” Furr said. “I don’t want to have to leave just to seek a flower.”
Furr served sixty days in prison for cultivating his cannabis medicine. The hope is that North Carolina legislators will start listening to patients like Furr and expand the state’s medical marijuana program. In 2014, a poll showed 53% of North Carolina voters believed NC doctors should be able to recommend marijuana to their patients. North Carolina’s public appears to favor medical legalization but its legislators have been slow to act.
Hemp. In 2015, North Carolina passed SB 313, permitting cultivation of industrial hemp. This bill created the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission to oversee the state’s hemp program and to issue licenses to grow hemp. The Commission was slow to begin operating due to a lack of funding. However, in May a group that lobbied for SB 313 was able to raise funds to get the Commission off the ground and North Carolina’s hemp program should be operating soon.
Bottomline. North Carolina’s criminal laws on marijuana possession are fairly lenient. The state’s decriminalization even covers fairly large amounts. Though obviously not ideal, North Carolina is at least notable as a southern state that punishes possession of up to 10 pounds of marijuana with less than a year in prison. The state’s medical and hemp programs leave quite a lot to be desired, but there are at least such programs in place. But as things now stand, North Carolina’s cannabis regime ranks it in the bottom half of the states.