North Carolina Drug Laws and Penalties 2024 Explained

Doug Edwards

Although they might seem clear, North Carolina drug laws and penalties can be surprisingly complex. The state has somewhat severe penalties for possessing, distributing, manufacturing, and trafficking drugs. These penalties are highly variable and depend on a variety of factors. For a clearer understanding of the potential impact of your drug charges and how to face them, contact a drug crimes attorney today.

Types of Drugs

Different types of drugs impact the severity of a drug charge. In North Carolina, there are six classifications of drugs, with Schedule I being the most egregious and Schedule VI being the least egregious. The drugs are evaluated based on their health applications and their potential for drug addiction and misuse. The schedules are as follows:

  • Schedule 1: LSD, GHB, MDMA, heroin, and psilocybin
  • Schedule 2: meth and other amphetamines, opiates like oxycodone and fentanyl, and codeine
  • Schedule 3: illegal steroids, ketamine, and pentobarbital
  • Schedule 4: benzodiazepines like flunitrazepam, tramadol, diazepam, and barbital
  • Schedule 5: this classification is for drugs that contain codeine but not in its raw form. This includes things like cough medicines and anticonvulsants.
  • Schedule 6: this classification is usually reserved for things like marijuana and THC products over 0.3%.

Punishments for Drug Trafficking

Most drug trafficking offenses are considered felonies, but they can differ on how severe the punishment might be:

  • Class H: 25-30 months in prison
    • Over 10-49 pounds of marijuana, 28-199 grams of amphetamines, or over 50-249 units of cannabinoids with a THC of over 0.3%
  • Class G: 25-30 months in prison
    • 50-1,999 pounds of marijuana, 28-199 grams of cocaine, 200-99 grams of amphetamine, 100-499 units of LSD or MDMA, or 250-1249 units of cannabinoids with a THC of over 0.3%
  • Class F: 70-84 months in prison
    • 2,000-9,999 pounds of marijuana, 200-399 pounds of cocaine, 28-199 pounds of methamphetamine or 400 or more pounds of other amphetamines, 500-999 units of LSD or MDA. 4-13 grams of opium or heroin, or 1,250-3,749 units of synthetic cannabinoids with a THC of over 0.3%
  • Class E: 90-117 months in prison
    • 10,000 or more units of Methaqualone, 200-399 grams of methamphetamine, MDPV, or Mephedrone, or 14-27 grams of opium or heroin
  • Class D: 175-219 months in prison
    • 10,000 or more pounds of marijuana, 400 or more grams of cocaine, 1,000 or more units of LSD or MDA, or 3,750 or more units of synthetic cannabinoids with a THC of over 0.3%
  • Class C: 225-279 months in prison
    • 400 or more grams of methamphetamine, MDPV, or mephedrone, or 28 or more grams of heroin or opium

Other Types of Drug Crimes

While possession and trafficking are the most common types of drug crimes, there are other types that come with additional penalties, including:

  • Drug Manufacturing: Manufacturing a drug includes many different actions and applies to both naturally occurring and synthetic drugs. Any step in the manufacturing process applies to this charge, including preparing, compounding, or producing drugs. This also applies to people who might not have necessarily made the drug but dealt with the packaging or distribution of the drugs.
  • Sale or Delivery: Another charge commonly applied to drugs includes the sale or delivery of them. How severe the charges are depends on the type of drug attempting to be sold. Any meeting or exchange related to drug distribution applies to this charge, including giving drugs away, exchanging them for material goods, or even meeting to exchange without any exchange taking place.
    • The charges for this crime are worsened if drugs are delivered to a pregnant female or made within a 1,000-foot distance of a place where children are present, like a school, daycare facility, or even a park.


Q: What Is the Mandatory Drug Sentencing in NC?

A: Mandatory drug sentencing refers to the requirements for prison sentencing given to certain types of drug charges like possession and trafficking. Depending on the type of drug and the amount of drugs found, you could be given a mandatory sentence of 25-225 months in prison. To learn more about how you can potentially reduce or eliminate these charges and their prison sentences, contact a North Carolina criminal defense attorney.

Q: What Is the Law on Drug Possession in NC?

A: Laws regarding drug possession vary depending on the type of drug found and how much of it was found. There is also a difference between simple drug possession and the intent to sell or distribute drugs. If the amount of a drug found exceeds a certain amount, drug trafficking charges might apply. For details on specific laws on drug possession in North Carolina, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Q: Do First-Time Drug Offenders Go to Jail in NC?

A: While many first-time drug offenders are subject to mandatory prison sentences depending on the schedule classification of the drug they possess and the amount they possess, some are able to avoid jail time with a conditional discharge. This option gives first-time offenders probation and a requirement to complete a drug education course. It is not available to every individual, but this option can help those who are first-time drug offenders.

Q: Are Drugs Decriminalized in North Carolina?

A: Drugs are not decriminalized, but some come with lower penalties. This means that Schedule VI drugs like marijuana often come with smaller or no sentencing depending on the circumstances. In North Carolina, possessing under 0.5 oz of marijuana without intending to distribute it is a misdemeanor that is not associated with any jail time but comes with a $200 fine. Possessing larger amounts can result in a felony with jail time.

Let Edwards Law, PLLC’s Experience Work for You

Even though drug charges can seem impossible to overcome, there are often strategies that can be used to increase the odds of a reduced sentence. Contacting a criminal defense attorney can help you understand your options and how they would effectively represent you. Having a partner when arguing your case can give you peace of mind about the charges you’re facing. Schedule a consultation with Edwards Law, PLLC, for more information on your case.