According to an Elon College study this year, 54% of North Carolinians support full legalization of marijuana. NC classifies marijuana as a Schedule 6 substance; the lowest, least addictive ranked illegal substances. However, even as a lower-level charge, you can still face arrest and criminal charges. Let’s look at marijuana possession laws in NC and how much weed is a felony.

Hemp vs Marijuana

There is no easy way for law enforcement to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana. There is currently no test that law enforcement uses to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. They look and smell the same. Hemp is entirely legal in NC, meaning that law enforcement may not use the same methods they’ve relied on for decades. 

For law enforcement officers, appearance or odor of marijuana or possessing paraphernalia is no longer:

  • Probable cause for arrest
  • Cause for the seizure of items
  • Probable cause for a search warrant

Because there is no viable difference between hemp and marijuana, the UNC School of Government recognizes that “There is at least one District Attorney’s Office in NC which is currently not prosecuting marijuana cases due to the inability of law enforcement to distinguish the difference between hemp and marijuana.” (3)

Marijuana Possession Laws in NC

North Carolina ranks drugs according to what they do to your body and their addiction potential. Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. There are severe penalties for possession of Schedule 1 drugs. 

However, NC places marijuana, THC, and hashish oil on Schedule 6. The penalties for possession of weed are much less severe. The amount of marijuana you possess has everything to do with what legal consequences you may face. Consider these charges:

  • .5oz or less marijuana possession could bring a misdemeanor charge and a maximum fine of $200. If you want to estimate, ½ an ounce or .5 oz is approximately 3 tsp.
  • .5 to 1.5 oz marijuana possession could cause you to face a misdemeanor conviction, a $1000 fine, and up to 45 days in jail for a first offense. 1.5 oz is roughly equivalent to 3 tbsp.
  • 1.5 ounces or up to 10 lbs of marijuana possession brings stiffer penalties. In this case, you could face felony charges and significant jail time depending on your prior criminal record.

Watch What You Say

If you face charges for marijuana possession, be careful what you say. You can face conviction if you admit marijuana possession to an officer, on a phone call, or to another inmate. Any admission of guilt means that the prosecutor no longer has to prove that the substance is marijuana. You’ve proven it yourself by admitting guilt.

Staying quiet until your attorney arrives can help you fight criminal marijuana charges. A knowledgeable attorney considers many factors when preparing an effective defense:

  • Chain of custody issues
  • Rights violations
  • Substance testing violations
  • Prosecutor not meeting deadlines for testing or submission of evidence

Federal Law

The Federal government also schedules drugs, substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. 

However, the DEA lists marijuana (cannabis) as a schedule 1 drug. They include it in the schedule containing the highly addictive or dangerous drugs. Federal Schedule 1 substances include: 

  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Ecstasy
  • Methaqualone
  • Peyote

The Feds consider marijuana an addictive and dangerous substance. The DEA handles drug traffickers and high-level smuggling across state lines. If you possess large amounts of marijuana, you may attract their attention. 

Federal trafficking penalties for first-time offenders could bring you a felony record and up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for possessing: 

  • less than 50kg marijuana
  • 1 to 49 marijuana plants
  • 10kg or less hashish 
  • 1kg or less hashish oil

For a second offense, you could face as much as life in prison for:

  • 1,000 kg or more marijuana mixture
  • 1,000 or more marijuana plants

While federal law classifies marijuana as a highly addictive and dangerous Schedule 1 substance, NC classifies it as a schedule 6 substance. There is not a governmental consensus about marijuana policy at this time.  As time goes on, we may see more studies and medical guidance about marijuana products that will influence the government to agree at the state and federal levels.

We Can Help

Whether you face charges at the state or federal level, our experienced attorneys at Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna fight for your rights. We understand the stress of arrest, so we keep you informed every step of the way. We have had previous successes with criminal marijuana drug charges. Deferments, inclusion in government diversion programs, and reduced or even dismissed charges are all possible with our assistance. Contact us today and find out how we can help you. 


  1. https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article249097625.html#storylink=cpy
  2. ROAD IIHS AND HLDI RESEARCH “Changes in traffic crash rates after legalization of marijuana: results by crash severity” by C.M. Farmer, S.S. Monfort and A.N. Woods “Recreational marijuana and collision claim frequencies” (HLDI Bulletin) “Cannabis presentations to the emergency department after motor vehicle crashes in the era of legalization for recreational use” by E. Choo et al.


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