The top North Carolina House lawmaker says that medical marijuana legalization has “a better chance of passing this year than in any time in the past,” and he expects a Senate-passed reform bill to be taken up by his chamber’s Republican caucus within the next month.
While the GOP-controlled House has previously blocked medical cannabis legislation from advancing, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said that its prospects have improved, with a floor vote possible depending on where Republican members ultimately come down on it this session.
“We have not voted on it in our caucus yet. I get a sense that there is a decent amount of support for medicinal use of cannabis—but then there is also a significant amount of of opposition,” he told WUNC in an interview taped on the marijuana holiday 4/20 on Thursday. “I don’t know that count. I suspect it will be a divided vote, much like the healthcare expansion legislation was, much like the gaming legislation that passed earlier.”
“It’s just a matter to see what the caucus’s appetite is on it, but it’s—I would say that it has a better chance of passing this year than in any time in the past,” Moore said.
He joked about the “irony” of having the discussion on 4/20 and said that “probably within the next month we should know” whether the Senate-approved legislation will be taken up by the House this year.
Listen to Moore’s cannabis comments, around 11:05 into the audio below:
The medical cannabis bill from Sen. Bill Rabon (R) cleared the Senate last month.
It would allow patients with qualifying conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and multiple sclerosis to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries.
Advocates have been confident that the legislation would make it through the Senate, as the prior version did during the past session. What’s been less certain is how the GOP-controlled House would approach the issue.
Moore previously said that the dynamics around marijuana reform have changed, with “a lot of new members. He said that there are now more than 50 percent of members who support medical cannabis and he would “not be surprised at all if that bill moved.”
“I think the odds are more likely than not that something will happen on that,” he said in the earlier interview.
That represented a significant change in tone for the speaker, who formerly remarked that there were “a lot of concerns” with Rabon’s bill.
Here are the key provisions of the medical cannabis legislation, SB 3:
Patients would be allowed to access cannabis if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Smoking and vaping would also be allowed, but doctors would need to prescribe a specific method of delivery and dosages for patients under the revised legislation. And they would need to reevaluate patients’ eligibility for the program at least once a year.
The bill provides for up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers who control the cultivation and sale of cannabis. Each supplier can operate up to eight dispensaries. That’s double the dispensary cap laid out in the earlier version.
Under the bill, a Compassionate Use Advisory Board would be established, and it could add new qualifying medical conditions.
Separately, a Medical Cannabis Production Commission would be created to ensure that there’s an adequate supply of cannabis for patients, oversee licensing and generate enough revenue to regulate the program.
The measure would further create a North Carolina Cannabis Research Program to “undertake objective, scientific research regarding the administration of cannabis or cannabis-infused products as part of medical treatment.”
There don’t appear to be specific equity provisions that many advocates push for as part of legalization legislation.
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A findings section in the bill states that it’s the intent of the legislature “prioritize the protection of public health and safety in the creation of a system for the cultivation, processing, and selling of medical cannabis.”
Further, “the General Assembly that the regulatory system created by this Article be nimble and able to respond quickly to changes in the rapidly-evolving cannabis industry.”
A poll released in February found that North Carolinians are also ready for the reform, with about three in four voters saying they back medical cannabis legalization.
For his part, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in December that he thinks a medical marijuana legalization bill “has an opportunity to pass” this session, and he also reiterated his support for broader decriminalization of cannabis possession, noting racial disparities in enforcement.
Cooper’s public support for decriminalization is a relatively recent development. He first openly backed the policy change in October, saying that it’s time to “end the stigma,” while separately announcing steps he’s taken to explore his options for independently granting relief to people with existing convictions.
Following President Joe Biden’s mass pardon announcement in October, which also involved a call to action for governors to provide state-level relief, Cooper said that he’s directed state attorneys to review pardon authority for marijuana offenses.
The governor separately convened a North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that previously recommended decriminalizing marijuana. The report from the panel, which is chaired by state Attorney General Josh Stein (D), also included a recommendation for the state to initiate a study on whether to more broadly legalize cannabis sales.
Under current law, possessing more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70 percent of those convicted being nonwhite.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, a Republican lawmaker and a bipartisan group of cosponsors have filed a bill to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.