Will Biden’s Marijuana Pardons Affect NC Drug Convictions?

President Joe Biden announced pardons for anyone convicted of federal simple marijuana possession. No other marijuana-related crime or other types of drug possession was included in the pardon. The President’s action does not decriminalize the drug at the federal level.

His announcement also ordered a review of how marijuana is classified at the federal level. Marijuana – sometimes referred to as cannabis – is currently considered a Schedule I drug (the most addictive). This schedule equates marijuana with LSD and heroin and is more dangerous than cocaine and fentanyl. In addition, President Biden encouraged state governors to take similar action for state-level simple marijuana possession.

On the heels of the President’s statement, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper asked state lawyers to evaluate the steps necessary to pardon convictions for marijuana simple possession in the Tarheel State.

“Law enforcement in the criminal justice system should be focused on stopping violent crime and drug trafficking and other threats to safe communities,” Cooper said.

NC Task Force for Racial Equity in Justice

Gov. Cooper appointed members in 2020 to a Task Force for Racial Equity in Justice (TREC). According to data from the task force, there were 31,287 charges for possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana in the state in 2019. About 60% of convictions were non-white defendants despite marijuana use being relatively equal among all races.

Among TREC’s recommendations was the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and further study of legalizing the possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana. The task force also suggested that state statutes and municipal criminal codes should be reviewed for eliminating unnecessary crimes.

As of this writing, the General Assembly has not acted on these recommendations.

Marijuana Remains a Crime in North Carolina

Attitudes may change in the future, but for now, marijuana remains illegal for both recreational and medical uses. That puts us in the minority in the United States. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use.

One exception in North Carolina is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In 2021, they legalized medical marijuana and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana on tribal lands.

Marijuana Is a Schedule VI Drug

The North Carolina Controlled Substances Act places marijuana on a lower schedule than the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous with a “high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, or a lack of accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.”

Marijuana in this state is classified as a Schedule VI substance, the lowest category that has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, or a relatively low potential for abuse in terms of risk to public health and potential to produce psychic or physiological dependence liability based upon present medical knowledge, or a need for further and continuing study to develop scientific evidence of its pharmacological effects.”

Penalties for Marijuana Possession

As a Schedule VI drug, simple cannabis possession (up to one-half ounce) is a Class 3 misdemeanor. The maximum fine is $200. A sentence of imprisonment must be suspended. The judge may not require at the time of sentencing that the defendant serve a period of imprisonment as a special condition of probation. Quantities between .5 and 1.5 ounces can bring Class 1 misdemeanor charges with up to a $1,000 fine and 45 days in jail.

Marijuana possession becomes a felony if the amount is between 1.5 ounces and 10 pounds, increasing possible jail time to up to 8 months. Possession of between 10 and 50 pounds is felony intent to distribute with consequences of up to a $200,000 fine and 222 months in prison, depending on the circumstances.

Drug Crimes Need Aggressive Legal Representation

Drug crimes – even misdemeanors – can impact your reputation, relationships, and ability to find work and housing. At Jetton & Meredith, PLLC, we do everything we can to eliminate or minimize consequences for our clients. Our first goal is to have the charges dropped altogether. When that is not possible, we work doggedly to get charges reduced or fight for not-guilty verdicts in court.

Contact us right away if you are facing drug charges. Speak to one of our skilled attorneys by calling (704) 931-5535.