‘Wild west’: Illegal THC products found in North Carolina shops, authorities say

CHARLOTTE — Authorities are sounding the alarm in North Carolina, saying illegal marijuana products are being sold at gas stations and smoke shops across the state, and there’s little regulation in place to control where these products are ending up.

9 Investigates found that while some cannabis shops test their products to make sure they’re safe and legal, other popups and smaller smoke stores aren’t doing that -- and technically, they don’t have to.

In North Carolina CBD products are only legally allowed to contain 0.3% THC, but as lawmakers in Raleigh found out on Tuesday, not every product is within the legal limit.

THC Limit in North Carolina

Bryan House, the director for North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE), told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety the agency is seeing more and more complaints about THC products and said the bulk of the complaints were related to unregulated tobacco shops.

“Just to give you a snapshot of that trend, in 2023, we’ve tested 65 products and 52 of those came back over the legal 0.3% THC limit and the range is from just above [the legal limit] all the way to 9.79% delta nine THC,” House said.

THC products like Delta-8 THC live in a gray area within state laws. Delta-9 THC is the main psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana --- which is still considered an illegal drug both federally and under state laws. However, Delta-8 THC is another cannabinoid compound that can affect users, and THC-A is a compound that converts to Delta-9 THC when it’s heated and inhaled.

There’s no law in North Carolina that sets an age limit for possessing hemp products.

“It’s a concern, we’re getting reports from schools across the state that and really across the nation. We’re seeing the media articles of young people who are found in possession of, you know, gummies or edibles or even vape products that have the THC in it,” House said.

Optional regulations

Michael Sims is the co-founder of Crowntown Cannabis, with three shops in the Charlotte area. He says he does all he can to sell cannabis responsibly, and that starts with his suppliers.

“They get the products tested with certified labs, and then we randomly pull products off our shelves and send them to testing as well,” Sims told Channel 9′s Hunter Sáenz.

THCA in Crowntown Cannabis

But Sims doesn’t have to do that. These shops aren’t regulated in North Carolina.

The ALE is governed by state law which grants the agency the authority to oversee alcohol and lottery sales. Although there is a provision in state law to oversee tobacco products as well, House said vape shops don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the ALE if they don’t have an ABC permit.

“If a business has neither an ABC or a lottery permit, we don’t have any inspection authority at that location, nor do we have full subject matter jurisdiction on that,” he said. “We’re really in the Wild West in this industry.”

Sims says he and others in the industry would welcome new rules to level the playing field against stores that aren’t testing their products.

“We want regulation!” Sims told Sáenz. “We want regulation that helps the industry grow but doesn’t impede us and shut the industry down.”

One recommendation, Sims suggested, is to require shops like Crowntown Cannabis to have a license to sell their products.

Any cannabis product with more than 0.3% Delta 9 THC is illegal in all of North Carolina. However, Mecklenburg County doesn’t prosecute simple marijuana possession charges, according to a memo from District Attorney Spencer Merriweather.

(WATCH: Start date set for marijuana dispensary on Western NC reservation)

Michael Praats

Michael Praats, wsoctv.com

Michael is an investigative producer for Channel 9.

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.