North Carolina cannabis history

The History of Cannabis in North Carolina

North Carolina cannabis laws have not changed much over the past few decades. North Carolina is one of a select few states that continues to perpetuate cannabis prohibition despite overwhelming scientific evidence of its medicinal and therapeutic benefits. North Carolina marijuana bills may not be placed on a ballot initiative, but must go through the General Assembly. Though progress has been slow, it’s possible that 2023 will be the year in which cannabis is finally legalized.

North Carolina Cannabis 1970-2010s

North Carolina reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis in 1977, but still labels those convicted as misdemeanor criminals rather than imposing a civil fine. There have been multiple subsequent attempts at further decriminalization in the 2010s, which did not make any serious advancement in the State House or Senate. 

There have been no attempts at cannabis decriminalization in the past, although there was medical-focused house bill 401, which received little support, and did not make it to a vote. North Carolina enacted a CBD-focused law in 2014 for patients with intractable seizure disorders. However, the law failed to provide an in-state source for cannabis extracts. 

North Carolina Cannabis News 2019

On March 20, 2019, nineteen cosponsors introduced HB 401, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. The bill carried over to 2020, but it was not given a committee hearing or vote before the legislature adjourned.

Although the Senate approved an expanded bill in 2019 to serve those with autism, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, mitochondrial disease, and a few other medical conditions, it failed to address how people would obtain their medicine, and only applied to levels of THC below 0.9 percent. The bill never advanced out of the House and is still not a law.

North Carolina Cannabis News 2021

On April 7, 2021 two bills were filed with the North Carolina General Assembly. Senate Bill 669 would legalize medical marijuana, and Senate Bill 646 would legalize adult-use marijuana. Public polling shows that while full legalization is not as popular as medical marijuana, both have the support of the majority of North Carolinians.

Elon University released the results of a poll taken in late January 2021, which found 54% of North Carolina residents support legalizing adult-use cannabis, and 73% support making cannabis legal for medical use in North Carolina. With this degree of public support, and with a growing number of neighboring states reaping the benefits of cannabis taxes, it is only a matter of time before political pressure builds, and the North Carolina legislature takes action.

North Carolina Cannabis News 2023

As of 2023, multiple bills have been proposed to legalize and build out the regulatory framework needed for medical marijuana and recreational cannabis programs. If passed, the proposed recreational cannabis legislation, SB 346, would include expungement of past marijuana-related convictions and a plan to ensure social equity is a key component of the new marketplace.

According to state senators, “cannabis prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has been a wasteful and destructive failure. [It] has had an unfair, disparate impact on persons and communities of color [and] diverts law enforcement resources from violent and property crimes.”

Separate medical cannabis legislation, SB 3, proposes legalizing cannabis for patients with debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD. The bill establishes a Compassionate Use Advisory Board which could add new qualifying conditions as North Carolina’s medical marijuana program matures.

Although the future of North Carolina’s marijuana market has yet to be determined, it is likely that cannabis is coming to the Tar Heel State soon. 

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