NC’s Cannabis Crossroads: Balancing Legalization And Coming Regulations


Jordan Meadows, Staff Writer

With recent developments in the state commencing, North Carolina is poised for potential reform on the legalization of marijuana amid a spectrum of opinions and legislative hurdles.

2023 witnessed a flurry of proposed bills in both the states’ House and Senate pertaining to the legalization and regulation of hemp, medicinal cannabis, and adult recreational usage. The recent conclusion of the North Carolina General Assembly session for the year passed without the enactment of any of these bills.

Presently, the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes remain illegal in North Carolina. Despite the ongoing prohibition of marijuana, products derived from hemp, such as those containing cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-8, continue to enjoy legality and widespread availability for adult consumers across the Tar Heel state. Oversight of hemp cultivation in North Carolina remains under the purview of the USDA. The distinction between hemp and marijuana is defined by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration thresholds.

Although 2023 saw no new legislation concerning the legality or regulation of hemp-derived products, the House unanimously passed HB 563 in September. This bill aimed to establish state regulations for the sale and distribution of such products, mandating licensing for their sale, distribution, or manufacturing.

In a bipartisan move, NC senators passed SB 3, known as the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (NCCCA), by a margin of 36-10 in March of this year. This legislation proposes granting North Carolinians access to marijuana for the treatment of specific medical conditions upon prescription. Representatives from both sides of the political aisle in the House have signaled their intent to support SB 3 should it come to a vote.

If SB 3 becomes law, a maximum of 10 companies would be authorized to manage the production and sale of marijuana, with each permitted to operate up to eight dispensaries. Additionally, the legislation proposes the establishment of the Medical Cannabis Production Commission, tasked with overseeing licensing and regulating the state’s marijuana supply chain and revenue generation from the program.

Unlike previous marijuana legalization proposals endorsed by NC state Democrats, SB 3 does not include provisions aimed at prioritizing licenses for individuals from communities disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization. SB 3 currently awaits review by the N.C. House Health Committee and could potentially undergo a full House vote in 2024.

On April 20, the first medical marijuana dispensary opened in NC. Situated within the Qualla Boundary, home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, this dispensary operates under tribal sovereignty, illustrating the complexities surrounding cannabis laws across jurisdictions. The number of patient card applications surged and is expected to intensify as recreational use approved by the Tribe last September goes into effect at a later date.

In North Carolina, having half an ounce or less is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine without imprisonment. Possession of half an ounce to an ounce and a half is also a misdemeanor, but it may lead to both jail time and a discretionary fine. Possessing more than an ounce is deemed a felony offense.

North Carolina is one of the ten states where both medical and recreational marijuana are still prohibited. Contrastingly, in 24 states, recreational marijuana is permitted, while 14 states allow only medical use. Notably, except for Virginia’s 2021 legalization, no other southeastern state has passed legislation to legalize marijuana.

During the 2024 legislative session, there’s some optimism for significant discussions and possible shifts in North Carolina’s cannabis policies. As stakeholders delve into the complex interplay of legality, health considerations, and social equity, the course of marijuana legalization in the Tar Heel State continues to evolve.

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