Don’t be the Victim of a Victimless Crime. NC Marijuana Laws Part One.
Published February 12th, 2015
North Carolina Drug laws are governed generally by NCGS chapter 90. The most common offenses charged are minor misdemeanor possession charges. However, possession of larger quantities of even victimless drugs such as marijuana can quickly escalate to a felony. In addition, North Carolina can levy an excise tax on possession of controlled substances (drugs) resulting in huge financial penalties even when the criminal charge is reduced or you are found not guilty.
Many people now consider Marijuana to be a beneficial drug that has been slandered and made illegal for a variety of illegitimate reasons. While I share many of those beliefs, having a marijuana CHARGE on your permanent record can quickly turn a defendant from the victimless lawbreaker into the victim. Consequences of the crime can range from just a fine, to life changing incarceration, drug education classes, probation, and community service, as well as other penalties. But the most serious consequence is often the mark a conviction leaves on your record itself. Having a drug conviction on your permanent record can result in difficulty finding suitable employment, housing, and educational opportunities. It can even be difficult to get a job at “Wal-Mart with a weed conviction.
In many cases, a felony conviction for drug possession, even marijuana, can trigger the same collateral consequences as a conviction for murder or manslaughter. The felony conviction can result in suspension or revocation of certain professional licenses, driving privileges, voting rights, right to sit on a jury, right to hold public office and important firearms rights.
The North Carolina General Assembly, while not on the forefront of enlightened thought about all things, has reflected the changing attitude toward marijuana in a few recent legal changes. Simple possession of less than ½ oz of marijuana is now a class 3 misdemeanor, which means, unless you have a fairly extensive record, you can only be punished with a fine. They have also recently created a sub category of “possession of drug paraphernalia”, titled, “possession of marijuana paraphernalia”. This is also a class three misdemeanor. Prior to the addition of this charge, people were frequently charged with the minor offense of possession of marijuana, a class 3 misdemeanor, as well as possession of drug paraphernalia, a class 1 misdemeanor, for the rolling papers, bowl, or even the plastic baggie or other container. Obviously, this negated the reduction in severity expressed by changing simple weed possession to a class 3, when people were frequently also charged with paraphernalia, a class 1.
I wish I could say that the creation of the class 3 marijuana paraphernalia charge was the product of an enlightened legislature. I wish I could. But the reason is far more likely that this crime was created to deny poor people the right to have a court appointed attorney. You see, when there is no threat of active time, there is no right to an attorney. One can certainly hire an attorney, if they can afford to, and the fees are not unreasonable for this type of case. However, if a person cannot afford to hire an attorney, they are now forced to navigate the legal system without an attorney, and they are expected to understand and apply the same legal rules and principles that a seasoned attorney must employ in court. The end result of this change is, the state saves a few dollars by not having to supply a court appointed attorney, and thousands of poor folk get drug convictions on their permanent record because they do not know things they can do to keep these charges off their records. All this comes after several successive years of increasing court fines and fees associated with these minor charges, and prohibiting judges from waiving those fees except in the most dire situations.
So while some marijuana legalization advocates may cheer the “decriminalization” of certain marijuana laws, I am not cheering, and will not be, until sensible regulation accompanied by legalization occurs. Until then, my advice to you is this: It may seem like a minor charge, and in the scheme of things, it is. But don’t let North Carolina Law turn you into the victim of a victimless crime. Seek counsel. Hire an attorney.