Cultural attitudes toward marijuana and marijuana users have shifted dramatically in the last two decades. Where people who used or grew marijuana were once considered a scourge on society, more people today recognize that marijuana use is comparable to alcohol consumption. Combine an increasingly lax social attitude toward marijuana with the fact that North Carolina decriminalized first time offenses regarding marijuana possession, and you may think it's practically legal here.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, even though there aren't criminal penalties associated with a first offense, possession or use of any amount of marijuana remains a crime in North Carolina. In fact, larger amounts of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute and growing marijuana all remain serious felonies in North Carolina.
Understanding the decriminalization law
Lawmakers decriminalized posession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977. Those found in possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana could face a Class 3 misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum fine of $200. For those with a previous criminal record involving marijuana or who have more than half an ounce of natural state marijuana in their possession, jail time is still a possibility.
However, unlike other states where decriminalization leads to nothing more than a civil infraction and a ticket, North Carolina's decriminalization act still leaves people with a criminal record. Even first time offenders will face a misdemeanor charge. It is common for the courts to suspend the sentence associated with the conviction or guilty plea, but that criminal record could still haunt you for life.
Possession can still result in criminal charges
Many people charged with marijuana offenses don't benefit from the decriminalization law at all. For those arrested while in possession of more than half an ounce, there's potential for fines and jail time in addition to the criminal record that results.
Possession of more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The charge carries between 1 and 45 days in jail, as well as discretionary fine of up to $1,000. Possession of more than 1.5 ounces but less than 10 pounds is a Class I felony which results in between 3 and 8 months in jail and a discretionary fine.
Marijuana extracts also carry potential penalties
Many people these days have changed from smoking natural state marijuana to vaporizing or dabbing marijuana concentrates or extracts. Whether the concentrate is pressed hashish or butane hash oil, possession of any amount up to .05 ounces, is a Class 3 misdemeanor which carries a $200 fine and jail sentence that may get suspended.
Someone found to posses more than .05 ounces but less than .15 ounces (roughly 4.25 grams) will face a Class 1 misdemeanor. Possession of more than 0.15ounces is a Class I felony that carries between 4 and 6 months in jail, as well as a potential fine.