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  • Christopher D.

North Carolina Marijuana Laws: What to Know

When it comes to marijuana policy, North Carolina remains firmly rooted in the past with complete prohibition on any use, medical or recreational. However, pressure is mounting for change as more states embrace legalization. Let's take a look at the current legal landscape for marijuana in the Tar Heel state and the renewed push for reform.

Marijuana Remains Entirely Illegal 

As of 2024, marijuana is still classified as an illegal controlled substance under North Carolina state law. This blanket prohibition means possession of any amount is considered a misdemeanor criminal offense that can result in fines and potential jail time, even for tiny amounts.

The state's hardline stance runs counter to the wave of legalization efforts sweeping much of the rest of the country. A total of 21 states have now legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, while 37 states permit some form of medical marijuana program for qualifying patients.  

North Carolina stands out as one of just 11 states maintaining a complete ban on all marijuana use and possession, regardless of the potential medical benefits or changing public attitudes. Simple possession arrests remain common across the state. Marijuana advocates argue that North Carolina's prohibition is becoming increasingly unsustainable and out of step with the clear trajectory of reforms taking place nationwide.   

The Exception of Tribal Lands

Despite North Carolina's strict prohibition of marijuana, a notable exception exists on tribal lands, which are governed by their own laws rather than state regulations. In 2024, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened a dispensary on their sovereign land, marking the first and only legal sale of marijuana within the state’s borders. This groundbreaking move was made possible because tribal lands are federally recognized as sovereign nations, thus allowing the tribe to establish their own cannabis regulations independent of North Carolina's laws.

The dispensary operates under the tribe's comprehensive regulatory framework, which includes stringent security measures, health and safety requirements, and a system to track cannabis products from seed to sale. It provides both medical and recreational marijuana to those over the age of 21, with products ranging from flower to edibles. While this development does not alter North Carolina's state laws against marijuana, it offers a closely monitored example of regulated cannabis sales within the state.

For non-tribal residents, the dispensary on tribal land represents a legal avenue to obtain marijuana, although it remains illegal to transport any cannabis products across tribal boundaries into state jurisdiction. The operation of this dispensary has not only sparked a discussion regarding the effectiveness and safety of regulated marijuana markets but also highlighted the stark contrast between tribal sovereignty and state law.

This unique situation on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' land could potentially influence future legislative discussions in North Carolina, as it provides a real-world example of a regulated marijuana market operating successfully within the state's geographical confines, albeit on sovereign tribal land.

Why Medical Marijuana Should Be a Priority

If and when North Carolina does finally revisit its marijuana laws, legalizing medical marijuana ought to be the first and most obvious policy change to pursue based on public health benefits.

Over the past decade, clinical research has increasingly validated marijuana's therapeutic value for treating a variety of conditions and symptoms, including:

  • Chronic pain 

  • Nausea and lack of appetite

  • Epilepsy/seizures

  • Multiple sclerosis spasticity

  • PTSD and anxiety disorders

For patients suffering from these debilitating conditions, medical marijuana can provide a safe, effective alternative treatment when traditional pharmaceuticals are ineffective or cause harsh side effects. 

A state-regulated medical marijuana program with licensed dispensaries and product testing would give qualifying patients a legal avenue to access these important medicines. It would also allow doctors to properly monitor, control, and recommend usage and dosages. By contrast, patients in North Carolina currently have no option but to turn to unregulated illicit sources to self-medicate, putting their health and safety at risk.

Growing Public Support for Reform

While marijuana remains entirely prohibited in North Carolina, public attitudes have shifted dramatically in favor of reform in recent years. The latest statewide polling data indicates a strong majority of North Carolinians (72%) now support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

Support for recreational legalization has grown rapidly as well, with 57% favoring allowing adult-use marijuana, according to a 2022 survey by Elon University. That percentage has more than doubled in just the past decade as the "Reefer Madness" stigma has faded. This dramatic reversal in public opinion seems to finally be registering with some of the state's political leaders, after having been dismissed or ignored for years.

Renewed Legislative Efforts in 2024

Building off of the momentum, advocacy groups and some state lawmakers have renewed efforts this year to pass comprehensive marijuana reform legislation during the 2024 session. 

The North Carolina Senate is currently considering a bipartisan bill (SB 711) that would legalize medical marijuana for qualified patients suffering from a list of specified debilitating conditions. If passed, the state's licensed growers and dispensaries would be able to produce and provide medical marijuana products.

In the House, some lawmakers have endorsed going even further by also pushing for legal recreational marijuana use and retail sales. A recently filed proposal (HB 404) would establish a taxed and regulated adult-use marijuana program similar to many other legal states.

Both bills face stiff opposition and major hurdles, especially in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. While a growing number of GOP legislators are coming around on medicinal use, many still remain firmly opposed to full legalization for adult recreational purposes. Advocates argue the reform push needs to clear that first critical medical hurdle before having any realistic chance at eventually legalizing recreational marijuana down the line.     

North Carolina's Changing Tides

For decades, North Carolina has been among the most conservative states in the nation when it comes to marijuana prohibition. However, the changing political winds and public opinion shifts around marijuana policy can no longer be ignored.  

While medical marijuana seems the most viable starting point for reform in 2024, the push for recreational legalization will undoubtedly continue gaining steam as more neighboring states embrace legal adult-use markets.

Even if the latest legislative efforts fall short again this year, it appears to be an inevitability that the outdated prohibition stance will give way to some form of meaningful marijuana legislation in North Carolina sooner rather than later. The tides have simply shifted too far at this point to remain stuck in the "Just Say No" status quo.

Get Ready for Medical Marijuana

Although medical marijuana is still not legal in North Carolina, it may legalized soon! You should be sure you are prepared for the program to become operational as soon as possible. In order to do this, you will need to get your medical marijuana card.

Reserve an evaluation online today, and we’ll book an appointment for you with one of our compassionate doctors just as soon as North Carolina’s medical marijuana market is fully operational.

You and your new doctor will meet virtually, using your smartphone, tablet, or computer for a telemedicine appointment. You’ll learn all about how medical marijuana may be able to help your conditions, without even leaving the comfort and safety of your own home. And you’ll even save $25 off the cost of the evaluation!


Doctors Who Care.

Relief You Can Trust.

Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce the stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.

If you have any questions, call us at (833) 781-7320, or simply reserve a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

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