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Marijuana Possession Laws in NC may be more lenient in 2020

Marijuana laws are changing rapidly in the 50 states, making it difficult for consumers to keep up. Ten states currently have laws completely legalizing marijuana, while it remains fully illegal in another 10 states. All the states in between have passed some laws legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, but most still prohibit its recreational use. In North Carolina, marijuana remains fully illegal. Decriminalization, however, may be underway with help from efforts such as House Bill (HB) 766.

What Is HB 766?

Democratic lawmakers filed House Bill 766 on April 15th, 2019. Its purpose is to decriminalize the possession of no more than four ounces of marijuana in North Carolina. The bill would change the language of G.S. 90-95(a)(3), which currently states that it is unlawful for any person to possess a controlled substance. HB 766 would add an exception stating that the term controlled substance does not encompass four ounces or less of marijuana.

HB 766 would also alter subsection (d)(4) of the law, which relates specifically to marijuana and Class 1 misdemeanors. It would change the language from banning more than 0.5 ounces of marijuana to banning more than 4 ounces of marijuana. It would also increase the quantity of marijuana necessary to commit a Class 1 felony from 1.5 ounces to 16 ounces.

Finally, HB 766 would add a section to the law regarding the expunction of certain marijuana-related criminal records. The bill would effectively seal the criminal records of people with convictions for possessing less than four ounces of marijuana currently in North Carolina. These people would automatically qualify for record expunction on or before July 1, 2020. If the bill were to pass, it would go into effect on December 1, 2019.

Will HB 766 Pass?

The possibility of North Carolina decriminalizing the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana is good news for people currently serving sentences for marijuana-related crimes. These defendants currently face up to 45 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for possessing 1.5 ounces or less of marijuana. Possession of 0.5 ounces comes with a $200 fine, with no exemptions for medical cannabis use. Possessing 1.5 ounces to 10 pounds of marijuana is a felony, punishable with up to 8 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The penalties increase significantly for possession with intent to sell.

HB 766, the Revised Marijuana Laws bill, is currently under review. Its sponsors are Representatives Harrison, Autry, Dahle and Hawkins. The Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House is currently reviewing the marijuana bill. The passing of this bill would expunge the records of dozens of people with convictions for possessing four ounces or less of marijuana in North Carolina. It would decriminalize this level of possession to prevent future related arrests and punishments.

Other Marijuana Bills in North Carolina

North Carolina does not have a strong history of passing marijuana-friendly laws. It is one of the 17 states that still criminalize medical cannabis. However, this year, a second marijuana-related bill is also under review by the Commission on Health as of March 21st, 2019. House Bill 401 proposes a comprehensive medical marijuana law that would amend existing laws to effectively legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The Medical Cannabis Act would provide identification cards to patients with qualifying debilitating conditions. This card would protect patients from arrest for possessing an adequate supply of marijuana for their conditions. An adequate supply refers to usable cannabis in an amount that can reasonably provide an uninterrupted supply for up to three months. This amount may vary from patient to patient.

If HB 401 passes, patients in need of medical marijuana in North Carolina could possess the necessary amounts without fear of arrest or criminal charges. It remains unclear whether people currently facing criminal charges for the same crime would qualify for record expunction under HB 401. This bill could go into effect in late 2019 or early 2020 should it pass through the various review boards.