Understanding the Impact of Marijuana’s Federal Reclassification on North Carolina

Exploring the Effects of Marijuana’s Federal Reclassification on North Carolina

On May 1, 2024, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration moved toward reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. The DEA, which is under the Justice Department, has a proposal that will recognize the medical uses of cannabis; however, it would not legalize marijuana for recreational use.

What are the implications of the reclassification for the United States and, specifically, what is its impact on North Carolina? This article covers these questions to clarify details you may be confused about.

The Proposal to Change the Classification of Marijuana

The proposal recognizes the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledges that it has less potential for abuse than some of the nation’s most dangerous drugs. Currently, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which is the same as heroin and LSD. This would move it to Schedule III, alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids as recommended by the Health and Human Service Department. The White House Office of Management must still review the proposal. 

Once the White House Office of Management signs off on it, the DEA will take public comment on the plan to move marijuana from its current classification to the proposed one. After the public comment period and a review from an administrative judge, the agency would eventually publish the final rule.

Will the Reclassification Make Marijuana Legal for Recreational Use?

This reclassification will not make marijuana legal for recreational use, only medical use. Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances. Controlled substances are subject to rules that allow for some medical uses and for federal criminal prosecution of persons who traffic the drugs without permission.

There will be no changes expected to the medical marijuana programs that are now licensed in 38 states or the legal recreational cannabis markets in 23 states, of which North Carolina is not one. It is unlikely that these states would meet the federal production, record keeping, prescribing, and other requirements for Schedule III drugs.

Reclassification Will Make Research Easier

Federal reclassification from Schedule I to Schedule III will make it easier to conduct studies on marijuana. It is difficult to conduct studies that involve administering a Schedule I drug. Restrictions on conducting studies on marijuana and medicine derived from marijuana would be looser, so private pharmaceutical companies and universities could engage in better research.

How the Reclassification Impacts North Carolina

North Carolina does not have a medical marijuana program. Therefore, if the DEA recategorizes marijuana, it will not affect the legal standing of marijuana in North Carolina. Phil Dixon, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Government, said “This doesn’t change much of the situation on the ground. It has no impact on our own state criminal law.”

Marijuana is illegal in our state. To legalize cannabis in N.C., lawmakers would have to pass a bill to legalize the drug and Governor Roy Cooper would have to sign the bill into law to change the legalization. Or, if the governor does not sign a bill, both chambers would have to veto it with a three-fifths majority vote.

First Cannabis Dispensary in North Carolina is Open

The first cannabis dispensary in North Carolina opened on April 20, 2024 in Cherokee. The facility is on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)  land, where medical marijuana is legal under tribal law. Great Smoky Cannabis Company can only sell to people who have medical marijuana cards issued by the EBCI, other tribal bodies, or another state.

Marijuana Remains Illegal in North Carolina and Carries Misdemeanor and Felony Charges 

Any North Carolina resident with a medical marijuana card can shop at the dispensary in Cherokee; however, people who are not members of the EBCI can be arrested under state law by non-tribal authorities on EBCI territory. Because marijuana is illegal in North Carolina, anyone who possesses it outside of the EBCI territory can be arrested. Marijuana possession can result in misdemeanor and felony charges with up to $500 in fines, a year in jail, or both.

What North Carolina Legislators Have Done to Move Toward Legalization 

Last year, Senate Bill 3, called the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina, passed in the Senate but is awaiting action in the House of Representatives. This Act would provide for the sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused edibles to qualified patients with a debilitating medical condition through a regulated medical cannabis supply system. If the Compassionate Care Act passes, it would be one of the strictest medical marijuana programs in the country. The bill specifically defines where marijuana can be grown, sold, and smoked, and the medical conditions that qualify a patient for a medical marijuana card.


In summary, the federal reclassification does not affect the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana in North Carolina. Until the N.C. House of Representatives passes Senate Bill 3, if you are found in possession of or trafficking cannabis, you are still subject to being charged with a misdemeanor or felony. And, even if Senate Bill 3 is passed, recreational use of marijuana will remain illegal in N.C. For more information on the current North Carolina marijuana laws, refer to our blog post entitled: NC Cannabis and Marijuana Laws.

Contact Sandman, Finn, and Fitzhugh for Marijuana Charges

Since federal legislation is not in effect and North Carolina’s Compassionate Care Act has not been passed, marijuana possession and selling for any use is still unlawful in North Carolina. If you have been charged with possession or trafficking, contact our marijuana possession lawyers for experienced representation. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today at (919) 845-6688 or fill out our easy-to-use contact form.