The consumption of marijuana for medical or recreational use remains illegal in North Carolina, but that will change if two bills introduced by state lawmakers on April 7 are passed and signed into law. Senate Bill 669 Senate Bill would legalize medical marijuana in the Tar Heel State, and Senate Bill 646 would allow the drug to be consumed recreationally. However, the fate of these bills is far from certain. Several similar bills have been introduced in the past, but none of them were voted on and some even failed to reach the committee stage.
Many North Carolina lawmakers remain opposed to marijuana legalization even though surveys show that the majority of the state’s residents support it. When researchers from Elon University polled North Carolina voters about legalizing medical marijuana, 73% of the respondents said that they would support such a law. Support was also bipartisan. Two in three of the Republicans polled said that they though medical marijuana should be legal. Ballot measures have led to marijuana legalization in states controlled by both Republicans and Democrats, but they are not permitted in North Carolina.
Several bills have been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly that would decriminalize rather than legalize marijuana. The most recent is House Bill 290, which was introduced in March. If the bill passes, possession of small quantities of the drug would lead to a civil fine instead of criminal charges. Selling or distributing marijuana would remain a criminal offense. In 2020, a task force set up by Governor Roy Cooper to evaluate marijuana legalization options came out in favor of decriminalization.
If these bills are not passed, possessing even minor quantities of marijuana will remain a drug crime in North Carolina. When their clients are accused of possessing marijuana, experienced criminal defense attorneys could urge prosecutors to consider leniency by citing public opinion polls and reminding them that the drug is now legal in many parts of the country. Attorneys could also point out that prosecutors in several North Carolina counties no longer pursue marijuana possession cases.