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Lets be blunt: Talking marijuana legalization in N.C.

Not to be blunt , but it’s April 20th, a.k.a 420 , which has become known as as “weed day” throughout the U.S. It’s also a perfect time to look into N.C.’s marijuana laws .

And, in the state, it’s not legal recreationally nor medically.

Three bills– HB 185 , SB 648 + SB 579 , referred to together as the North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act – were introduced last year in North Carolina to protect medical marijuana users, but they failed to receive a committee vote (meaning they weren’t even considered by the N.C. legislature) .

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I Drug by the federal government. Schedule I Drugs are defined as drugs with little to no medical value and high potential for addiction . But states are starting to reexamine the classification because of research that shows marijuana’s potential benefits for medical conditions like chronic pain, seizures + mental disorders .

It’s estimated that 80% of North Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use. 83% of voters identifying as Democrats and independents supported legalization, with Republicans not far behind, at 73% support legalization. The percentages are far lower for recreational use – 45% overall approve.

Currently, possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana is technically a misdemeanor and may result in a fine ($200 max), but won’t land anyone in jail unless they have prior offenses . Between ½ and 1 ½ oz is a Class I misdemeanor, with potential jail time up to 45 days and up to a $1000 fine. Over 1 ½ oz is a Class I felony and could result in up to 12 months in prison. Consequences are more severe if intent to distribute is found. The max fine for sales/trafficking is $200,000 and up to 20 years in prison.

But if it’s illegal, then why is it still legal to purchase glass pieces from local smoke shops? Technically, those pieces are meant to be used for smoking tobacco . Unless there is marijuana residue on it, it’s just considered a glass piece, not drug paraphernalia.

There are 20 shops that sell smoking + tobacco accessories in Asheville. Octopus Garden, one of the longest running, has 8 locations .

How do we compare to other states?

💨 In South Carolina, possessing one ounce or less (first offense) can result in 30 days incarceration or a maximum $200 fine. A subsequent offense can mean up to a year in prison and a $2,000 maximum fine.

💨 In Georgia, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor , with up to a year of imprisonment or a $1,000 fine. The city of Atlanta decriminalized the possession )of one ounce or less of marijuana) in January and now has a max fine of $75 for one ounce or less.

💨 In Tennessee, possessing ½ oz or less is a misdemeanor , with up to a year of imprisonment and a max fine of $250. A subsequent offense could mean up to a year in prison and a $500 fine.

💨 In Florida, the recreational use of marijuana is still illegal, but medical marijuana was legalized in 2016.

Find out why local farmers are excited about growing hemp, what CBD oil is + where to buy products that include it (CBD lattes, anyone?), and which District Attorney candidate in Buncombe County supports legalization.

Hemp: N.C.’s most promising cash crop?

Hemp is a distinct variety of Cannabis sativa that is the same species as marijuana but is not genetically or chemically similar to it. Hemp contains less than .3 percent THC. After growing industrial hemp was legalized in 2016 as part of the Pilot Research Program , the state formed an Industrial Hemp Commission and several farms in the area started growing the crop, which is praised for its hardiness and is used in everything from cosmetics and food to textiles .

The first industrial hemp crop in the state was planted in spring 2017 . Franny’s Farm , in Leicester, partnered with HempX to plant two acres of hemp crop last June. HempX also hosts their signature festival, a hemp education festival, at Franny’s Farm–this year it’s scheduled for September 21 – 23. They’ll also host a Hemp History Celebration at the farm on June 5.

Other growers in the area include Carolina Hemp Co. in Woodfin and the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River.

Want to learn more? Head to White Labs Kitchen and Tap (172 S. Charlotte St.) for the Hemp, Hops + Truffles event on May 13 from 6 – 9 p.m., hosted by NCSU researcher Jeanine Davis of the Extension Center.

Interested in growing industrial hemp? Apply to be part of the pilot program here .

The CBD oil boom

The CBD business is big in Asheville. You can purchase oil , salve , bath bombs and lotion , or enjoy it in everything from chocolate to lattes at spots like Dobra Tea . You can even buy CBD products for your pets .

But what exactly is CBD?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol , a compound derived from cannabis that is non-psychoactive or less psychoactive than THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana). CBD is extracted from CBD-rich or CBD-dominant strains of cannabis (as opposed to THC-rich or dominant) and contains no higher than .05 percent of THC if it’s derived from industrial hemp.

CBD has potential as a treatment for everything from depression and arthritis to antibiotic-resistant infections . People often report feeling mild relaxation or no effects at all from CBD.

CBD oil derived from industrial hemp is legal throughout the United States .

Find CBD products sold or made in Asheville at Blue Ridge Hemp Co. (61 ½ N. Lexington Ave.), Carolina Hemp Company (406 Elk Park Dr., Woodfin), Dobra Tea (78 N. Lexington Ave. + 707 Haywood Rd.), Nature’s Vitamins & Herbs (752 Biltmore Ave.), Goddess Ghee + New Life CBD Oil .

Do you support decriminalization of marijuana? Buncombe County District Attorney candidate Ben Scales has been actively involved in the legalization movement and it’s a central part of his campaign platform. He’ll go up against incumbent Todd Williams in the May 8 primary (early voting is happening now).

6AM’s growing network of modern local media brands is redefining how communities engage, communicate, and connect with their cities. Read our full Editorial Ethics Policy here.

Where does our state stand on the legalization of marijuana? We explore the laws and fill you in on hemp, CBD oil + more.

Ex-doctor, marijuana advocate pleads guilty to giving Asheville teachers pot candy; opioid trafficking charge dropped

ASHEVILLE – After refusing to accept a plea deal and being sentenced to 19 years in prison, an ex-doctor and marijuana advocate has pleaded guilty to giving teachers pot candy without their knowledge.

In exchange, Monroe Gordon Piland III, 73, had an opioid trafficking charge dropped and was not required to serve any more time after spending nearly four years in prison.

Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg accepted Piland’s plea during an Oct. 28 hearing in which he also determined the former U.S. Naval Academy graduate, who said marijuana is an “essential nutrient,” was competent to stand trial.

Piland was freed Oct. 7 to revisit the charges with questions being asked about his competency.

Charges started with candy in 2013

Piland lost his medical license after he was convicted in the early 1980s of growing marijuana on his property in the Outer Banks.

In 2013, teachers at Evergreen Charter school reported that candy he gave them “made them feel funny,” Buncombe County Assistant District Attorney David Denninger told the court at Wednesday’s hearing. A State Bureau of Investigation lab confirmed it contained marijuana.

Piland told investigators that he might have dropped the candy “into pouch with sacred herbs and some cannabis flakes might have stuck on them,” Denninger said.

In 2014, while seeking custody of his child, he testified to pushing the child to ingest marijuana. After a 2015 social services report that he might be exposing his juvenile son to marijuana, police went to his house in Candler and found a large marijuana growing operation and a pill bottle with opioids that Piland said were left over from his deceased mother.

Former doctor Monroe Gordan Piland III, right, and his attorney attend a plea hearing in Superior Court at the Buncombe County Courthouse on Oct. 28, 2020. Piland’s 19-year sentence for various drug convictions from his 2017 trial was vacated and he was released from prison on Oct. 7, 2020. His new plea deal was accepted and he was sentenced to time served. (Photo: Angeli Wright, ANGELI WRIGHT/ASHEVILLE CITIZEN TIMES)

In a recent filing Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams said there were other illegal drugs found, and the combination was of “so many varieties” that Piland could be “considered to have been running an apothecary.”

Around the time of his 2017 trial, he drew support from people advocating legalization of marijuana. Piland insisted on representing himself and declined a deal to plead guilty to attempting trafficking that could have meant no jail time. Instead, a jury found him guilty of trafficking and other charges, resulting in the nearly two-decade sentence.

In 2018, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld by 3-0 his conviction on five of seven charges, including the trafficking. The two struck down were marijuana convictions that had little effect on the sentence length.

Oct. 28 guilty plea details

At the Oct. 28 hearing Piland was represented by court-appointed attorney Ted Besen, who noted his client’s service in the Navy and medical degree from Wake Forest University. Three supporters were present.

Thornburg asked Piland if he had used any drugs or alcohol, and Piland said he had recently drunk wine. Asked by the judge how often he drank wine, Piland said it was the first time in several years.

With the promise of the opioid trafficking charge dropped, Piland pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to sell and deliver; manufacturing marijuana and distributing adulterated foods, which carried the highest potential sentence. For that he was given 42 months by Thornburg but not required to go to prison because of the time he had already served.

Williams noted Piland had now served more time than he would have under the plea deal and said the state’s aims were satisfied: “to enforce the law, to establish community standards and to put both the public and defendant on notice that unlicensed quacks cannot deal and prescribe controlled substances by posing as medical doctors.”

After the hearing outside the courtroom, Piland told the Citizen Times he didn’t like being in prison but by reading writings of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, who spent decades in prison, he found himself “in good company.”

Asked if he would continue to use and advise others to use marijuana, he said that he would in part because he believed when eaten it was the best treatment for COVID-19.

“Will I continue to use it? Of course. It’s a god given plant. I don’t want to commit blasphemy.”

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

A marijuana advocate and ex-doctor has pleaded guilty to giving teachers candy which unbeknownst to them contained pot. In exchange for his plea, an opioid trafficking charge was dropped.