Public attitudes about drugs have changed greatly over the past couple decades, and the law has followed — but in some places, it has followed more quickly than in others. Some states and local governments have decriminalized certain drugs, and a growing number have legalized the medical or even recreational use of certain drugs.
For the most part, these changes have not been reflected at the federal level. However, President Joe Biden announced last fall that he was beginning the process of changing the federal government’s treatment of cannabis.
Because the legal landscape is so unsettled, many people don’t understand when they have broken the law, or when they should expect prosecution.
In this post, we will take a look at the state of drug laws in North Carolina.
Schedules of drugs
Both federal and North Carolina law classify controlled substances in categories known as schedules. The schedules are not all the same under federal law as they are under state law.
Under North Carolina law, the drugs considered the most addictive and most likely to be abused are placed under Schedule I. For the most part, Schedule I drugs have the most restrictions, and those found guilty of crimes involving Schedule I drugs may face greater penalties than those found guilty of crimes involving drugs in other schedules.
Heroin is a Schedule I drug under North Carolina law because it is considered to have no medical value, to be dangerous and to have a high likelihood of abuse. A first offense involving a Schedule I drug is considered a Class 1 felony, punishable by a jail sentence of 4-5 months.
The other schedules vary depending on their perceived medical usefulness and likelihood of abuse. Cough syrups with codeine, under Schedule V, are considered to have medical use, but also have the potential for abuse and addiction.
Marijuana and hashish products are considered to have no medical use and a moderate risk of abuse and addiction, so they are classified under Schedule VI. Federal law still categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug, although President Biden has begun the process of rescheduling it.
North Carolina’s partial decriminalization
There has been a lot of talk about North Carolina’s decriminalization of marijuana, but it’s important to note that the state is still a long way from outright legalizing the drug.
As we saw above, marijuana is still considered a Schedule VI controlled substance under North Carolina’s Controlled Substances Act. This means a first offense involving possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana is a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $200 and a jail sentence of up to 10 days. However, any imprisonment under this type of conviction is suspended.
That’s about as far as the state’s decriminalization goes. A person convicted of possessing less than half an ounce of marijuana may still have to face a fine.
Possession of any more than half an ounce for personal use can mean up to 45 days in jail. Possession with intent to distribute can land a person in jail for 3-8 months.
And remember, the laws involving other controlled substances have not changed under North Carolina law.
Defending against drug charges
Put all this together and you can see that people who have been charged with drug crimes can still face serious penalties in North Carolina. Those who have been accused of drug crimes need skilled legal representation to help them defend their futures.