A Brief History of Cannabis Legislation in North Carolina from 1977 to 2015

During the 1970’s, lawmakers across the country were faced with an explosion of arrests for marijuana possession. Many legislators were especially concerned that young people from good families would live under the cloud of a felony record for the sole crime of possessing a few joints. In 1977, North Carolina decriminalized possession of marijuana making a first time offense of possession of up to one ounce a misdemeanor with a suspended sentence and a $100.00 fine.

Albert DiChiara and John F. Galliher covered the history of decriminalization in 11 states, including North Carolina in “Dissonance and Contradictions in the Origins of Marihuana Decriminalization” in Law & Society Review, Vol. 28, No. 1. (1994), pp. 41-78.

In 1977 NC legislators debated both a liquor-by-the drink bill and a marijuana decriminalization bill. Editorials in most of the state’s newspapers came out strongly against liquor-by-the drink, and that bill was returned to committee until the short session. In the few papers that covered the decriminalization bill, editorial opinion was mixed. Newspapers noted that since the mid-1960s, drug use was increasing in the state’s colleges, and that marijuana use was even more common among whites than among African Americans. The press reported on “High Noon” at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where hundreds of students gathered at noon to smoke marijuana at the campus bell tower.

One senator quipped that in Rose Hill “…you can make corn liquor but with a joint you’re going to jail for two years. After football games in the Bell Tower at Chapel Hill as many as 15,000 smoked marihuana with the State Bureau of Investigation, local and county police watching. Do the same thing in Anderson, North Carolina, in the mountains and you were gone.”

Another senator stated, “Last summer my nephew was busted for smoking marihuana . . . and due to the fact that maybe I’ve got somebody with clout over there, this kid got off fairly easily.” In contrast he told the story of another “young boy” who went to prison for possession and was murdered during his incarceration. Another senator observed: “I do not believe that the majority of the people of North Carolina support the concept that fifty or sixty kids in North Carolina ought to be imprisoned for doing what thousands of others have done without any punishment at all”.

The director of the Department of Corrections testified on overcrowding in the state’s prisons, and testified that there should be no imprisonment for alcohol and drug violations. A state commission confirmed that the state prisons were overcrowded and that the state faced the threat of federal court intervention and control. One judge said “When drug use was restricted to young hippies, we could talk about THEM. When it hits the neighbor down the street, it’s US. It’s not what we can do about THEM, now it’s what we can do for US.”

Given all these concerns, a Democratic state representative urged the attorney general to support a decriminalization bill. In July 1977 the attorney general finally came out in support of the bill, justifying it as a means of concentrating on hard drug sales, relieving prison crowding, and of avoiding placing kids in prison with “professional felons.” HB 1325 was passed in the House by a vote of 59-36.

After that change however, North Carolina legislators seemed reluctant to enact further changes regarding marijuana, and some lawmakers during the Reagan era even proposed bills to turn back this modest level of decriminalization. A search of bills on ncleg.net reveals an interesting history of legislative proposals (bills proposed but not passed unless otherwise noted) between 1989 and 2015. The first medical marijuana bill was introduced in 2001, 24 years after the decriminalization bill was enacted into law.

1989 – 1990 Session:

House Bill 1090, Short Title: Possess Marijuana/Increase Penalty sponsored by Democrats Dennis Wicker, George Miller, Jr. and Beverly Perdue – proposed increasing the fine for possession of under ½ ounce to $500.00 and adding no less than 24 hours of community service. Referred to Judiciary Committee, then postponed indefinitely.

1991 – 1992 Session:

Senate Bill 366, Short Title: Marijuana Trafficking sponsored by Republicans John Carter and Robert Carpenter – proposed that possession of 10 pounds of marijuana or 100 plants would be guilty of a felony known as trafficking in marijuana with prison sentences of 5 years and fines of $5,000.00. (The previous limit was 50 pounds). Referred to Judiciary 2.

House Bill 470, Short Title: Marijuana User Accountability sponsored by Republican Coy Privette – proposed increasing the fine for a first conviction to $500.00 and a minimum sentence of no less than 24 hours, which would be suspended only if the defendant performed 8 hours of community service. Referred to Judiciary III.

1993 – 1994 Session:

House Bill 1550 / Senate Bill 1413, Short Title: Increase Penalty for Drug Sales sponsored by Democrat E. David Redwine (multiple cosponsors) in the House and Democrats David Parnell and Charles Alberton in the Senate – Specified that the transfer of less than 5 grams of marijuana for no remuneration would not constitute a delivery. Referred to committees in House and Senate.

1995 – 1996 Session:

House Bill 961, Short Title: Drug Offense Penalties sponsored by Jerry Braswell – proposed that possession of 10 pounds of marijuana or 100 plants would be guilty of a felony known as trafficking in marijuana with prison sentences of 5 years and fines of $5,000.00. Referred to Judiciary II Committee.

Senate Bill 625, Short Title: Change Marijuana Trafficking Amounts sponsored by Republican Patrick Ballentine (multiple cosponsors) – proposed that possession of 10 pounds of marijuana or 100 plants would be guilty of a felony known as trafficking in marijuana with prison sentences of 5 years and fines of $5,000.00. (The previous limit was 50 pounds). Referred to Judiciary 1.

1997 – 1998 Session:

Multiple bills introduced in General Assembly with bi-partisan sponsors or co-sponsors – proposing that possession of 10 pounds of marijuana or 100 plants would be guilty of a felony known as trafficking in marijuana with prison sentences of 5 years and fines of $5,000.00.

2001 – 2002 Session:

House Bill 1240, Short Title: Medical Use of Marijuana/Study, sponsored by Democrat Paul Luebke – proposed that the Legislative Research Commission may study the lawful possession, cultivation, and use of marijuana for the purpose of treating or alleviating pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions. Referred to Rules Committee and postponed indefinitely. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2001/Bills/House/HTML/H1240v1.html

2003 – 2004 Session:

House Joint Resolution 1038, Short Title: Study Marijuana Use, sponsored by Democrat Paul Luebke – proposed that the Legislative Research Commission may study the lawful possession, cultivation, and use of marijuana for the purpose of treating or alleviating pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions. Referred to Rules Committee. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2003/Bills/House/HTML/H1038v1.html

2005 – 2006 Session:

Senate Bill 1572, Short Title: Study Beneficial Uses of Industrial Hemp, sponsored by Republican Stan Bingham and Democrat Eleanor Kinnaird – proposed a Study Commission to Study the Industrial Uses of Industrial Hemp is created to study the many beneficial industrial uses of industrial hemp, including the use of industrial hemp oil as an alternative fuel and the use of industrial hemp fiber in construction and paper products; to study the economic opportunities industrial hemp provides to the State; and to consider the desirability and feasibility of authorizing industrial hemp cultivation and production as a farm product in North Carolina. Although this was incorporated into Session Law 2006-248 “The Studies Act of 2006” the commission was never formed. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2005/Bills/Senate/HTML/S1572v1.html

2007 – 2008 Session:

House Joint Resolution 2405, Short Title: LRC Study/Alternative Medicines, sponsored by Democrats Earl Jones, Walter Church, and Mary Price Harrison – proposed the Legislative Research Commission may study whether a public benefit would be derived from making it lawful for physicians to prescribe and patients to possess and use marijuana or its chemical equivalent for medicinal purposes only. Referred to Health Committee. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2007/Bills/House/HTML/H2405v1.html

2009 – 2010 Session:

House Bill 1380, Short Title: Medical Marijuana Act, sponsored/cosponsored by Democrats Earl Jones, Mary Price Harrison, Nick Mackey, Kelly Alexander, and Susan Fisher – proposed to make only those changes to existing North Carolina laws that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal and civil penalties and is not intended to change current civil and criminal laws governing the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. Referred to Health Committee. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2009/Bills/House/HTML/H1380v1.html

House Bill 1383, Short Title: Medical Marijuana Act/Referendum, sponsored by Democrat Earl Jones – proposed that the question of whether North Carolina should enact a Medical Marijuana Act allowing the possession and use of Marijuana for medical purposes only shall be submitted to the qualified voters of the State at a statewide election on the question held on November 3, 2009. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2009/Bills/House/HTML/H1383v1.html

2011 – 2012 Session:

House Bill 324, Short Title: Amend Possession of Marijuana, sponsored by Democrats Kelly Alexander and Larry Hall – proposed that possession of less than one ounce be treated as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, and for “…person who was convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor under G.S. 90-95(d)(4) for possession of marijuana before December 1, 2011, and who has not previously been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor other than a traffic violation under the laws of the United States or the laws of this State or any other state may, in the court where the person was convicted, file a petition for expunction of the offense from the person’s criminal record. The petition cannot be filed earlier than (i) two years after the date of the conviction or (ii) the completion of any period of probation, whichever occurs later.” Referred to Rules Committee. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2011/Bills/House/HTML/H324v1.html

House Bill 577, Short Title: Medical Cannabis Act, sponsored/co-sponsored by Democrats Kelly Alexander, Patsy Keever, Mary Price Harrison, Susan Fisher, and Paul Luebke, and Republican Glen Bradley – proposed to make only those changes to existing North Carolina laws that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal and civil penalties and is not intended to change current civil and criminal laws governing the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. Referred to Rules Committee. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2011/Bills/House/HTML/H577v1.html

2013 – 2014 Session:

House Bill 84, Short Title: Enact Medical Cannabis Act sponsored/cosponsored by Democrats Kelly Alexander, Mary Price Harrison, Kenneth Brandon, and Paul Luebke – proposed to make only those changes to existing North Carolina laws that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal and civil penalties and is not intended to change current civil and criminal laws governing the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. Referred to Rules Committee, which voted to terminate further discussion of the bill on 2/20/13. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/HTML/H84v1.html

House Bill 637, Short Title: Expunction of Marijuana Offense, sponsored/cosponsored by Democrats Kelly Alexander, Nathan Baskerville, Kenneth Brandon, Carla Cunningham, Beverly Earle, Susan Fisher, Susan Hamilton, Mary Price Harrison, Yvonne Lewis Holley, Annie Ward Mobley, Rodney W. Moore, and Bobbie Richardson – proposed that possession of less than one ounce be treated as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, and for “…person who was convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor under G.S. 90-95(d)(4) for possession of marijuana before December 1, 2013, and who has not previously been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor other than a traffic violation under the laws of the United States or the laws of this State or any other state may, in the court where the person was convicted, file a petition for expunction of the offense from the person’s criminal record. The petition cannot be filed earlier than (i) two years after the date of the conviction or (ii) the completion of any period of probation, whichever occurs later.” Referred to Judiciary Subcommittee B. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/HTML/H637v1.html

House Bill 1161, Short Title: Legalize Medical Marijuana/Const. Amendment, sponsored/cosponsored by Kelly Alexander, Carla Cunningham, Susan Hamilton, Mary Price Harrison, and Annie Ward Mobley – proposed that a constitutional amendment making medical use of marijuana legal shall be submitted to the qualified voters of the State at a statewide election on the question held on November 4, 2014. Referred to Judiciary Committee. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/HTML/H1161v1.html

House Bill 1220, Short Title: Hope 4 Hayley and Friends, sponsored by Republicans Patricia McElraft, Marilyn Avila, Jim Fulghum and Democrat Becky Carney with numerous bi-partisan supporters – proposed a pilot study program and registry to investigate the safety and efficacy of hemp extract in the treatment of intractable epilepsy. Neurologists at UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, Wake Forest University and Duke University were encouraged to conduct studies and provide hemp extract of less than 0.3% THC by weight and least 10% cannabidiol by weight to patients with intractable epilepsy who enrolled in those studies. The Department of Health and Human Services was required to set up a registry of patients, caregivers and neurologists. The bill easily passed through the House and Senate and was signed into law (SL 2014-53) by Governor McCrory. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/HTML/H1220v7.html

2015 – 2016 Session:

House Bill 78, Short Title: Enact Medical Cannabis Act, sponsored/cosponsored by Democrats Kelly Alexander, Becky Carney, Mary Price Harrison, Carla Cunningham, John Ager, Jean Farmer-Butterfield, Susan Fisher, George Graham, Susi Hamilton, Yvonne Lewis Holley, Howard J. Hunter III, Paul Luebke, Rodney Moore, Garland Pierce, and Evelyn Terry – proposed to make only those changes to existing North Carolina laws that are necessary to protect patients and their doctors from criminal and civil penalties and is not intended to change current civil and criminal laws governing the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. Referred to Rules Committee, which voted to terminate further discussion of the bill on 3/25/15.

House Bill 317, Short Title: Medical Marijuana for Terminally Ill Patients, sponsored/cosponsored by Democrats Kelly Alexander, Becky Carney, Mary Price Harrison, Carla Cunningham, John Ager, Nathan Baskerville, Beverley Earle, Susan Fisher, George Graham, Susi Hamilton, Yvonne Lewis Holley, Howard J. Hunter III, Paul Luebke, Rodney Moore, Garland Pierce, and Evelyn Terry – proposed an exemption for terminally ill patients in hospice care. http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/HTML/H317v1.html

House Bill 766, Short Title: Amend CBD Oil Statute, sponsored/cosponsored by Republicans Patricia McElraft, Marilyn Avila, Brian Brown, Harry Warren, and Larry Yarborough, Democrats Kelly Alexander, Becky Carney, Susi Hamilton, Mary Price Harrison, Yvonne Lewis Holley, Rodney Moore, Michael Wray, and unaffiliated Paul Tine – proposed that board certified neurologists may recommend hemp extract containing less than 0.9% THC by weight and at least 5% cannabidiol by weight to patients with intractable epilepsy without enrolling in pilot studies, and that DHHS set up a database of patients, caregivers and neurologists rather than a registry. Passed both House and Senate and was signed into law (SL2015-154) by Governor McCrory. http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/PDF/H766v6.pdf

Senate Bill 313, Short Title: Industrial Hemp, sponsored/cosponsored by Republicans Stan Bingham and Ralph Hise and Democrat Joyce Waddell – proposed that it is in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina to pro signature on 9/30/mote and encourage the development of an industrial hemp industry in the State in order to expand employment, promote economic activity, and provide opportunities to small farmers for an environmentally sustainable and profitable use of crop lands that might otherwise be lost to agricultural production. The purposes of this Article are to establish an agricultural pilot program for the cultivation of industrial hemp in the State, to provide for reporting on the program by growers and processors for agricultural or other research, and to pursue any federal permits or waivers necessary to allow industrial hemp to be grown in the State. Ratified and sent to Governor McCrory for signature on 9/30/15; became Session Law 2015-299 on 10/31/2015 without McCrory’s signature. http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S313v5.pdf

Sources:

http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/SessionLaws/HTML/1977-1978/SL1977-862.html

http://www.mocavo.co.uk/Journal-of-the-House-of-Representatives-of-the-General-Assembly-of-the-State-of-North-Carolina-1977/437169/1171

http://www.epi.msu.edu/janthony/requests/articles/DiChiara_dissonance%20contradictions%20marihuana.pdf

http://scholarship.law.campbell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=clr


6 thoughts on “A Brief History of Cannabis Legislation in North Carolina from 1977 to 2015

  1. While what I read finally shows encouraging news after years of HB’s “postponed”, or “commision never formed” on medical need of all things! (how shameful)..so now we’ve made it so if a child has epilepsy, help can finally, mercifully be given. But, as a long time, six time cancer Survivor who is most assuredly in need of compassionate care, we are still dying for some kind of concern and yes; compassion to be given us and so many others the medical community knows full well helps us. I do not want to be on dangerous drugs that often make things worse; the nausea, inability to keep down what little food, which needs to be healthy, NON-GMO (non-cancerous) food and therefore we chose WHICH meal will be our “fill the belly” meal, and we can’t afford me throwing it back up; especially when it doesnt need to BE like this. Six cancers and radiation poisoning and what fun complications we’re having; most hospitals won’t SEE me, I am “too complicated a patient for this facility”. Do you KNOW what it feels like to be turned away from hospitals and doctors because you’re “too complicated”? It’s frightening to know. We need these laws changed so that we can have our caretakers, or for those still able;their own ability to have a small herb patch.

    I see tobacco fields out here, and as an herbalist and healer of many; every single book I have in my extensive library shows tobacco with an asterick after it, which means it is POISON; NOT for consumption. With these “vaporizers”, are they too cutting into the tobacco farmers income, and wouldnt it be great for the Senate Bill 1572 attempted to be made law back in 20006 in regard to the many and various uses of hemp not serve to unite us in a common cause that can and will if looking by example at the states who have legalized but do not have the qualities we have hear in North Carolina to replace the tobacco fields with Cannabis and Hemp, which ever the farmers chose to plant? I believe crime would decrease if it were legal across the board! Why rob when you can simply tend to your own garden; go find something more constructive to do than the energy of crime.

    As we who have fought this battle for any length of time, let alone closing in on 45 or so years in this fight, we understand that a PLANT is not a drug, It’s truly that simple. That needs to be made clear to those who like to throw out that word. Drugs are man-made, in a lab, brought to your doctor by slick well-dressed drug sales people (which is why in many cases, we wait so long past the appointment time)…given a kick back, free product, time shares? pffftt, depends on the doctor I suppose, and the drug. Give those who are ill the ability to grow or purchase their own simple cannabis herb and places like Walgreens would be closing down! We NEED to quit leaving the speaking out about this issue to a few and speak UP. I have to, I am running out of time! I do not feel good at all, and do not want to end up behind bars where I would surely die, because I was bold enough to plant a few seeds, water and tend to plants that ease the pain that at times has been so intense I cracked a wisdom tooth into three pieces, have pleaded with my maker to just take me: I cannot ride the pain well anymore…I am exhausted from pain. nausea..I do not understand why this is acceptable, not to me, not to so many others in exactly the same battle. PTSD? The cure. ALL Chronic Pain. Kills CancerS. Epilepsy,

    Thank you NC Norml for updating us..
    it would be a welcome thing to hear we can unpack the boxes, and continue to call this beautiful state HOME. I have indeed written my congress, the senators, supreme court judges, and the president of this country (since both his mother and grandmother passed from cancer…just saying..

    sorry (not really though) for the lengthy response, this is an issue very much on my mind as I am again battling NOT to be back in the hospital..I am not sure I have the strength to do this yet again..with compassion from those who can make such laws into being; please know what happened to me, can happen to anyone. cancer doesn’t care. You are welcome to pass my words along to any of those with the power to help, or need to understand the need, absolutely (if one persons experience in this can be of any use). And thank you for all you are on the front lines trying to do. It is appreciated.

  2. thank you. I was very pro-active when we lived in Ohio, came here to North Carolina after my last bout with cancers; the idea was to come here to heal. I was under the impression however that we had compassionate care already starting up here and to find out I was mislead? I can vouch that my quality of life has gone downhill at an alarming rate, and now wonder if I am going to be alive to see the day that all of us who know the truth, but expect “someone else” to do the job, (as you so eloquently stated) will finally get OFF the fear train, as a friend who tried to help us all stated; right before they sentenced him to prison; with his daughter just having gone through cancer, and been forced to submit to chemo. Todd Simpson is his name, I am sure many know of his case? The difference in my quality of life has gone down by 75%, maybe more?? We dont know anyone locally I can even go to for help, and as I stated, worry about arrest has kept me from growing my own; something I did for many, many years and was doing WELL. I am angry that this basic need for healing, is held in the tight fist of government officials who apparently have not yet had someone they love end up with cancer, or any other chronic illness that we all know cannabis helps with. It seems it will only be when their own loved one gets such news will they too finally realize that if such a simple thing as a plant, an herb, with NO side effects (except giving you an appetite) can and will help; will this finally NOT be “tabled”, “floored till later”, or whatever the excuse is. I made the front page of Cleveland Ohios biggest newspaper at a Norml rally, I have NO problem speaking up; OR shaming those who stand by letting the chronically ill do their job for them.

    1. I wish I had an answer for you – I would like to make your reply a blog post, if you don’t mind, I am a new blogger for NC NORML, and not sure how many people read the replies. I also would like to share your story, either with or without naming you with my media contacts, who may be able to expand the number of people we reach. Ann Twitty Caughran

      1. You are welcome to use my words, however they will reach the most impact. You can share my journey, my truths with anyone you feel needs to hear them. I have written our President, the Congress, the Senate, to Supreme Court Judges…there is nothing I say, that I cannot back up, nor fear anyone hearing, or knowing. In fact, the more who know the truth of it all, from the prospective of a patient; the better. My ability to walk, to do many things I once apparently took for granted, is now gone, but my fingers still fly on the keyboard, and gee; thus far, cannabis doesnt seem to impact my ability to form sentences. *smile* So, by all means; you are welcome to share, in any way you think will be of help.

        Cindy Lamprecht.

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