North Carolina Drug Laws Explained
If you've been arrested for a drug crime in North Carolina, it's possible for you to be charged under a number of different statutes:
- Misdemeanor Drug Laws
- Felony Drug Laws
- Felony Drug Trafficking Laws
- Federal Drug Laws and Federal Drug Trafficking Laws
If you are accused of trafficking in drugs or conspiracy to traffic in drugs, it's possible for you to be charged by the State authorities - your county prosecutors such as the Wake County District Attorney - or by federal authorities - such as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District Attorney. In fact, since each level of government is considered a separate sovereign, it's possible - although generally not the case - for you to be tried and prosecuted by both the state and the federal governments. Usually, however, if one entity decides to prosecute you, then the other entity will decline prosecution. Generally - although not always - if you had to choose, it'd be better to be charged and prosecuted under state law for two reasons. First, state laws, while still very punitive, tend to be somewhat less punitive than federal laws. Second, federal sentencing has a concept called "relevant conduct" that allows a judge to punish you for any relevant drug or other criminal violations even though those violations may be uncharged or even though a jury may have found you not guilty of those violations. Since "relevant conduct" can create the possibility of being punished even if you are found "not guilty" of almost all charges, there is tremendous pressure in the federal system to enter into a plea agreement with the government.
North Carolina Misdemeanor Drug Laws
Misdemeanors, as the name suggests, are less serious criminal offenses, usually punishable by court costs, fines, and, possibly, probation. Only rarely is a misdemeanor drug conviction or misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction punished by jail time. North Carolina has a number of misdemeanor drug laws, including, but not limited to:
- Misdemeanor Possession of Drug Paraphernalia N.C.G.S. § 90-113.22. Possession of drug paraphernalia. (a) It is unlawful for any person to knowingly use, or to possess with intent to use, drug paraphernalia to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, package, repackage, store, contain, or conceal a controlled substance which it would be unlawful to possess, or to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the body a controlled substance which it would be unlawful to possess. (b) Violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana punishable as a Class 3 or Class 1 Misdemeanor: A controlled substance classified in Schedule VI [marijuana] shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, but any sentence of imprisonment imposed must be suspended and the judge may not require at the time of sentencing that the defendant serve a period of imprisonment as a special condition of probation. If the quantity of the controlled substance exceeds one?half of an ounce (avoirdupois) of marijuana or one?twentieth of an ounce (avoirdupois) of the extracted resin of marijuana, commonly known as hashish, the violation shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor Possession of Schedule VDrugs Punishable as a Class 2 Misdemeanor:
- Not more than 200 milligrams of codeine or any of its salts per 100 milliliters or per 100 grams.
- Not more than 100 milligrams of dihydrocodeine or any of its salts per 100 milliliters or per 100 grams.
- Not more than 100 milligrams of ethylmorphine or any of its salts per 100 milliliters or per 100 grams.
- Not more than 2.5 milligrams of diphenoxylate and not less than 25 micrograms of atropine sulfate per dosage unit.
- Not more than 100 milligrams of opium per 100 milliliters or per 100 grams.
- Not more than 0.5 milligram of difenoxin and not less than 25 micrograms of atropine sulfate per dosage unit.
North Carolina Felony Drug Laws
Felonies are more serious drug charges that are punishable, usually, by probation and possibly prison time, especially if the person has a bad criminal record. Most North Carolina drug felonies are Class G, H, or I felonies with the exception of Drug Trafficking Laws (covered below). Meth manufacture may be punished as a Class C felony.
- Sell Heroin, Sale of Heroin, or Sale of Opium or Sale of Cocaine or Sale of any Schedule I or Schedule II are punishable as Class G felonies.
- Manufacture of Methamphetamine (Meth) is punishable as a Class C felony, unless the manufacture of meth merely involved packaging or labeling the drug in which case it is punishable as a Class H felony.
- Sale of Scheduled III, Schedule IV, Schedule V, and Schedule VI drugs are punishable as Class H felonies. This includes the sale of marijuana, which is a Scheduled VI drug and punishable as a Class H felony.
- Possession with Intent to Sell and Deliver (PWISD) of Schedule III through Schedule VI drugs, except cocaine and heroin, is a Class I felony.
- Possession with Intent to Sell and Deliver (PWISD) or sale of a counterfeit drug is punishable as a Class I felony.
North Carolina Drug Trafficking Laws
At the top of the pyramid of drug laws are Drug Trafficking Laws. These are laws that prohibit the large scale possession, transportation or distribution (sale) of controlled substances, even though in certain cases the amounts that qualify as drug trafficking weights are not very large at all. Drug Trafficking laws in North Carolina are characterized by two components. First, they require a mandatory minimum jail sentence. A person convicted of drug trafficking will spend time in prison. Second, the only way to avoid prison time if convicted of a drug trafficking crime is by providing "substantial assistance" (known on the street as "snitching") to authorities. If a judge finds that substantial assistance has been offered by the defendant, the judge may deviate from the mandatory minimums and impose a lesser sentence, including probation. In order to take advantage of substantial assistance, it is almost always important to contact a lawyer as early in the process as possible. Since most valuable information or the ability to assist law enforcement in making covert drug buys vanishes pretty soon after arrest, it's important that you act quickly if you believe that substantial assistance may be the right way to go in your case. Next, it's important to participate in a substantial assistance agreement with prosecutors under the guidance of your own lawyer. By working with a lawyer, you can ensure that you get full credit for all the information and cooperation you provide to police or prosecutors. Each drug trafficking category has three or four levels of punishment.
Trafficking in Marijuana
- 10 pounds up to 50 pounds - 25 to 30 months in prison.
- 50 pounds up to 2,000 pounds - 35 to 42 months in prison.
- 2,000 pounds up to 10,000 pounds - 70 to 84 months in prison.
- 10,000 pounds and above - 175 to 219 months in prison.
Trafficking in Methqualone
- 1,000 up to 5,000 dosage units - 35 to 42 months in prison.
- 5,000 up to 10,000 dosage units - 70 to 84 months in prison.
- 10,000 dosage units and above - 175 to 219 months in prison.
Trafficking in Cocaine (including Crack or Powder)
- 28 grams (about 1 ounce) up to 200 grams - 35 to 42 months in prison.
- 200 grams up to 400 grams - 70 to 84 months in prison.
- 400 grams and above - 175 to 219 months in prison.
Trafficking in Heroin or Opium
- 4 grams up to 14 grams (half ounce) - 70 to 84 months in prison.
- 14 (half ounce) grams to 28 (ounce) grams - 90 to 117 months in prison.
- 28 grams (ounce) and above - 225 to 279 months in prison.
Trafficking in LSD 100 dosage units up to 500 dosage units - 35 to 42 months in prison. 1. 500 up to 1,000 dosage units - 70 to 84 months in prison.
- 1,000 dosage units and above - 175 to 219 months in prison.
Trafficking in MDMA 100 tablets up to 500 tablets - 35 to 42 months in prison. 1. 500 up to 1,000 tablets - 70 to 84 months in prison.
- 1,000 tablets and above - 175 to 219 months in prison.