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Marijuana Possession Laws in NC

As current-day debates rage on about the legality of marijuana use, North Carolina begins to enter the realm of medical marijuana use. Headlines such as “Medical marijuana bill advances in NC Senate. What’s needed for it to become law?” dominate our legal landscape. However, criminal marijuana charges still abound in our state. If you face marijuana possession charges, you may worry about the consequences. Let’s look at marijuana possession laws in NC.

Marijuana Amounts Matter

The amount of marijuana you possess determines what type of legal consequences you may face. If you have .5oz or less, you’re looking at a misdemeanor charge and a maximum fine of $200. If you want to estimate, ½ an ounce or .5 ounces is approximately 3 tsp.

The next level of possession is .5 to 1.5 oz. With this amount, you face a misdemeanor conviction, a $1000 fine, and up to 45 days in jail for a first offense. 1.5 ounces is roughly equivalent to 3 tbsp.

Suppose you have more than 1.5 ounces or up to 10 lbs of marijuana. In that case, you face felony charges and significant jail time depending on your prior criminal record and fines—more than 10lbs results in even stiffer penalties.

A Criminal Record is No Joke

North Carolina ranks drugs according to what they do and their addiction potential. Schedule one drugs include heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamine and are high in addiction potential causing detrimental effects. 

NC ranks marijuana as a Schedule six drug, but even as a lower-level charge, you can still face arrest and criminal charges. Don’t think that using marijuana is no big deal. The state still gives out stiff penalties for its possession. 

Even a misdemeanor conviction on your criminal record can prevent you from getting a good job, landing the apartment you want, or buying a new home. Employers, mortgage lenders, and other organizations do criminal background checks that may leave you out in the cold. 

Arrests and incarceration for marijuana – even for first-time, low-level violations – can result in debilitating collateral consequences for an individual and their family. A conviction for a drug law violation can result in the loss of employment, property, public housing, food stamp eligibility, and financial aid for college.


The good news is that after five years for a misdemeanor possession conviction and ten years for a felony possession conviction, you can apply for expungement of your record. Under some circumstances, if you are were under the age of 22 years old at the time, you may be able to expunge the conviction sooner. Because possession of marijuana is not considered a violent crime, North Carolina law allows expungement. An expunged criminal record means that you no longer have to admit in court under sworn testimony (or anywhere else) that you ever had a misdemeanor charge for marijuana. You legally no longer committed the crime. 

You are immediately eligible for expungement if your charges were “dismissed” or you were found “not guilty” in court.  

Is it Marijuana?

You can be arrested for a range of drug-related offenses if an officer suspects you possess, are selling illegal substances, or are driving under the influence of a controlled substance. An officer can arrest you if they have probable cause to believe that you committed a crime. 

However, it’s harder and harder for law enforcement to prove that what they see or smell is marijuana. Marijuana looks and smells like the legal equivalent of smokeable hemp. Law enforcement does not have a method to field test the difference between them, so attorneys regularly challenge and win these cases in court. This similarity makes it all the more critical that you do not make statements to law enforcement about the presence of drugs and thereby assist their investigation. 

What Happens If I’m Caught Holding the Bag?

Facing a drug arrest may leave you feeling frustrated and confused. You can face marijuana possession charges without even knowing it was there. Examples abound of individuals simply spending time at a friend’s house when arrested for possession. 

If arrested, law enforcement will search you on the scene, at the jail, or both. Officers may seize evidence related to the investigation and also your personal belongings. If the police arrest you, it’s important to invoke your right to remain silent. If you talk, you could get yourself in deeper trouble. Just tell the police that you wish to remain silent and want to speak with a lawyer. Although officers will often tell you that it will “be easier on you” if you just tell them where the drugs are, don’t fall for this. Do not give consent to search your car, home, or other belongings. Without your consent, law enforcement needs legal grounds to search. 

Don’t make the mistake of talking to the police, family, friends, or other inmates about your case. You could easily incriminate yourself by talking about your case. Assume that devices record your conversations, so don’t speak about your case to visitors or on the phone.

The only person you should talk about a criminal case with is your attorney. Your conversations with your attorney are confidential.

You Have Rights

Don’t let an investigation overturn your constitutional rights. If law enforcement raided your home or workplace, work with your criminal defense attorney to ensure that they did not trample on your rights in their haste to charge you. Some police departments even ask you to sign away your Miranda rights. Never sign away rights. Your attorney can help you see whether law enforcement is guilty of any wrongdoing in your case.

We Can Help

Scharff Law Firm in Raleigh helps people like you navigate the drug laws in North Carolina. We begin every case with a free consultation so we can learn about your situation. As a former prosecutor, our firm brings formidable experience and knowledge of the law to your case. Our drug charges defense team thoroughly investigates the circumstances surrounding your arrest, including the constitutionality of all warrants, searches, seizures, and arrests. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.