How to Handle Marijuana Charges in North Carolina

While the tides of legislation and public opinion in many states are changing, marijuana is still illegal in North Carolina. That means if you get caught with it, you’re facing legal trouble.

marijuana charges nc

If you get caught with weed, what’s going to happen to you? First, let’s take a look at the penalties associated with marijuana offenses.


Possession is the least serious tier of drug offenses. Possession of more than 1.5 oz is a felony and possession of less is a misdemeanor. The severity of the punishment you face for marijuana possession depends on the amount:

  • 0.5 oz or less: no jail time and a fine of up to $200
  • 0.5 – 1.5 oz: 1-45 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000
  • 1.5 oz – 10 lbs: 3-8 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000

If you have a substantial amount of marijuana, or if the weed is packaged in such a way that it looks like you might be selling it, you may be charged with “Possession with Intent to Sell or Deliver (PWISD).” That’s a felony and has much more serious consequences. As with simple possession, the penalties for PWISD depend on the amount of marijuana with which you’re caught. For less than 10 lbs, you’re looking at 3-8 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Sale or Delivery

If you’re caught actually transferring marijuana to someone else, you’re looking at a sale or delivery charge. Sale or delivery of marijuana is a felony. If you exchange any amount of marijuana for other property, you fall into the “sale” category of the law.

If you deliver more than 5 grams to another person, whether or not you get anything in exchange, you fall into the “delivery” category. If you deliver less than 5 grams but receive nothing in exchange, you’ll just be charged with possession.

The penalties for sale or delivery depend on the amount of marijuana involved. For 10 lbs or less, it’s 3-8 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.


If you’re growing marijuana, it’s a more serious offense than simply possessing it. Cultivation of marijuana is a felony in North Carolina. For cultivation of 10 lbs or less, you face 3-8 months of jail time and you may be fined up to $1,000.


If serious quantities of marijuana are involved, you’re looking at a trafficking charge. Trafficking is a felony in North Carolina and carries hefty penalties.

  • 10-50 lbs: 25-39 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000
  • 50-2,000 lbs: 35-51 months in jail and a fine of up to $25,000
  • 2,000-10,000 lbs: 70-93 months in jail and a fine of up to $50,000
  • 10,000 lbs or more: 175-222 months in jail and a fine of up to $200,000

Other Factors

The punishments for marijuana possession, sale, delivery, and cultivation may be increased in certain circumstances. For example, sale or delivery to a minor or a pregnant woman can up the potential jail time to 38-80 months. If that minor is under 13, it’s worth 44-92 months. You’ll also receive more serious punishments for involving a minor in the sale, delivery, or cultivation of marijuana or selling or delivering marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school.

In North Carolina, sentencing guidelines are determined in part by your criminal record. If you have prior criminal offenses, you may receive a harsher sentence than a person who committed the same offense but had no prior offenses.

Evidence in Your Case

All of the sentences listed above are relevant only if you’re proven guilty in court. In order to do that, the state needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly possessed, sold, delivered, or cultivated the marijuana in question. That evidence needs to be gathered according to law. If the evidence is incorrectly gathered, it can’t be admitted and used against you.

Let’s take a look at a couple of local examples to learn how the evidence process works:

Mr. Land (State v. Land, 733 S.E.2d 588, 589-90 (N.C. Ct. App. 2012))

Mr. Land was hanging out in front of his Charlotte home when an undercover officer drove up and asked if Land could help him “get some green.” Land agreed and got in the car, directing the undercover officer to several different residences in search of marijuana. The officer claimed that he gave Land $20 to use to purchase the weed and Land eventually found some, purchased it, and brought it to the officer. Land was then arrested for delivery of marijuana. In his testimony, Land claimed that he had simply summoned someone from the house and that person had actually taken the money from the officer and handed him the marijuana. Land claimed that he had never actually had the money or the weed.

At trial, Land was convicted. The jury believed the officer’s testimony over Land’s. The court noted that Land didn’t have to make a profit in order to be convicted of delivery or sale. In this case, the undercover officer’s testimony and the bag of marijuana he ended up with were enough to convict Land.

Ms. Ferguson (State v. Ferguson, 204 N.C. App. 451 (N.C. Ct. App. 2010))

A police officer pulled over a minivan for speeding near Greensboro. The van stopped and the driver started to get out, but the officer requested that the driver stay in the vehicle. The driver jumped back in, started the van, and drove away. The officer pursued the van but lost sight of it. When he caught up, the van was stopped and three adults and a child were running toward a nearby house. One of those adults was Ms. Ferguson. In her purse, the officer found a cell phone and a half-smoked joint with a small amount of marijuana left in it. In the car, the officer found 3 bags of marijuana. One had about an ounce in it, another had about half an ounce, and a third about 5 grams.

Ms. Ferguson was charged with possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana based on the officer’s experience that marijuana so packaged was generally intended for sale. The trial court convicted Ms. Ferguson on the theory that she was in constructive possession of the marijuana. “Constructive” possession is treated the same way as actual possession in the court. It means that the person in question has control over the marijuana even if it isn’t found on her person. Constructive possession often comes into play where drugs are found in a person’s car or home rather than in her pocket.

On appeal, the court overturned her convictions for felonious possession of marijuana and possession with intent to sell or deliver; she was to be re-tried at the trial court level for simple possession of the joint in her purse. What changed the court’s mind? Well, the officer never saw Ms. Ferguson attempt to hide anything in the minivan. He never even saw her in the van, only moving away from it. The court determined that this evidence was insufficient to prove that she even knew the marijuana was in the car, let alone that she constructively possessed it or intended to sell it.

What can we learn from Mr. Land and Ms. Ferguson?

First, we know that the testimony of the arresting officer is extremely important. We know that you can be convicted of delivery or sale even if you don’t make a profit on the transaction. We know that there must be some evidence that you actually constructively possessed the drugs in order to be convicted; seeing you near the scene is insufficient.

Defending Your Case

Your attorney will work with you to defend your case based on the facts, such as whether the officer actually saw you with marijuana. You may also have procedural defenses. These defenses relate to the way in which your arrest was handled and the way in which the police gathered evidence. These issues include whether police had (and needed) a warrant, whether they had reasonable cause to stop your vehicle, and whether your arrest was handled in line with your Constitutional rights. These procedural issues are complex and best handled by an experienced attorney.

What to Do if You’re Arrested

If you’re arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, remember to cooperate with the officers. Their testimony can make or break your case and the last thing you want to do is antagonize them. Be polite and courteous. Don’t argue and don’t get angry.

Do, however, pay careful attention to everything around you. Listen to what the police are saying. Watch what they do. If they ask you for permission to search your car or your home, don’t give it. Request that your attorney be present as soon as possible and relate the entire story of your arrest to your attorney right away. You want to give her the facts while they’re fresh in your mind.

Marijuana charges can result in serious jail time and fines. If you’re caught with pot, contact one of our experienced criminal attorneys immediately. We can help make sure your Constitutional rights are honored. We’ll work hard to prove your innocence and make the whole trial process as easy for you as possible. You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen. Contact us today.